Mozart in the Jungle Still Has the Magic

Season 3 Premiere Plot Summary:

With the New York Symphony Orchestra lockout still in effect, Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal) has traveled to Venice to conduct the return of famed opera singer Alessandra (Monica Belluci). Hailey (Lola Kirke) has been touring Europe with the Andrew Walsh Ensemble, but she doesn’t find it quite what she expected.

Last year’s Golden Globe for Best Comedy winner is an interesting little show. While it does have a narrative, compelling characters who change and grow, and plenty of twists and turns along the way, none of that quite feels like the point. Instead, the point of Mozart in the Jungle is to revel in the beauty of art and the passion that goes into creating it. That usually takes the form of classical music, considering its premise, but the show has managed to make everything from a whirlwind tour of Mexico City to recordings of childhood attempts at podcasting into beautiful showcases of the power of art. The show is always at its best when it indulges this impulse, so the great challenge of its third season is living up to these past scenes.

Fortunately, the show makes a strong case in its debut that we can expect more of the same. Moving the setting of the premiere to Venice in the wake of the lockout that ended last season allows for plenty of opportunity to achieve those moments of beauty. Rodrigo’s scenes find them through his newfound partnership with Alessandra, the famed “La Fiamma” of the Italian opera. Monica Belluci can be a stiff and awkward actress in some roles, but here she fits perfectly as an almost ethereal match to Bernal’s mercurial charms. This not only compliments Rodrigo’s character, it makes moments like her midnight performance of Ave Maria in a theater empty aside from Rodrigo feel beautiful rather than outlandish.

While Rodrigo explores the cultural beauty of Venice, Hailey is exploring its more conventional charms. Much of her time in this episode is given to a montage of scenes as she wanders around the city with a friend, taking in all its most popular tourist destinations and engaging in the breezy, naturalistic dialogue that often characterizes her scenes. It’s practically a commercial for Venice’s tourism board, but in a way that feels fun and exciting rather than grating. Between her experience and Rodrigo’s, we get a surprisingly multifaceted look at Venice for only 30 minutes, and one that hits all the right notes for enrapturing us in its presence.

When it comes to the actual plot, however, it’s a little more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the setup for Rodrigo’s storyline is quite compelling. He still feels lost and confused from his encounter with his old mentor in Mexico last season, compounded by the temporary loss of his orchestra. His attempts to stage the perfect comeback for Alessandra are just what he needs to reignite the passion that fuels his work, and it will be fascinating to see how that develops. But Hailey seems to be stuck in the same rut as always, making it into the Andrew Walsh Ensemble but then finding it disappointing and ultimately being fired for getting sick at a performance. Hailey’s story has always been about the grinding nature of finding success in art, and that’s certainly a rich vein for narrative, but there’s only so many times we can see her seemingly succeed only to face some kind of setback. It’s not bad, and there’s plenty of time in the season for it to become more interesting, but for now it’s a little too similar to her past experiences to be all that absorbing.

Still, there’s no denying that this premiere finds the beauty that has always fueled this show, and that gives a lot of hope for how the rest of the season develops. That can make it difficult to describe exactly what makes Mozart in the Jungle so entertaining, but it also makes it a very unique viewing experience. It’s not quite like nearly anything else you might see, so the occasional narrative flaw or weak structure can usually be forgiven thanks to its singular strengths. This premiere gives every indication that will continue, and there’s really no higher praise than that.

RATING: 8 OUT OF 10

MOZART IN THE JUNGLE IS STREAMING ON AMAZON

Chris Diggins is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.