The second season of Amazon’s original series Mozart in the Jungle is officially streaming, and if you haven’t been watching this Golden Globe-nominated television series, then now’s the time to start. The show is a delightful look at what happens behind-the-scenes of a fictional New York orchestra, beginning with the fallout after an older conductor (played by Malcolm McDowell) is pushed out in favor of younger blood—in new, long-haired, yerba mate-drinking conductor Rodrigo (who naturally goes by first name only). The second season finds Rodrigo trying to stay at the top of his game, while bringing the orchestra to top form. Classical music purists probably pooh-pooh the bad form and faux-playing of the actors portraying professional musicians, but most of the audience won’t notice because the characters are entertaining, intriguing and get to speak well-crafted and witty dialogue.
Here are five more reasons to start watching Mozart in the Jungle.
We’ve seen enough of the tortured, slightly misanthropic creative geniuses on TV for awhile. While Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) on House, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) on The Mentalist, Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) on Elementary and Rainn Wilson from the short-lived Fox series Backstrom, were captivating, their rough edges sometimes wore thin. Bernal’s “Rodrigo” is just as creative and intriguing as the aforementioned antiheroes, but so far, the mad conductor is free of the depressing emotional baggage. The character still has his issues and a weird past life, but Rodrigo walks the fine line between creativity and crazy. To the actor’s credit, he keeps Rodrigo’s eccentricities in check, and the character remains endearing and relatable to the audience—even when he’s conversing with the long-dead composers (Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) who pop-up from time to time. We’re not the only ones to notice his excellent performance; Bernal is up for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
The Amazon show is based on oboist Blair Tindall’s memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music. She spent several decades with the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony as well as in the orchestral pits on Broadway, and pulled back the curtain on the gray-haired, fuddy duddy facade that’s generally associated with the classical music world. In addition to introducing audiences to the basics of classical music with Mozart and Mahler, the show also features and discusses lesser-known composers like Jean Sibelius and John Cage. The series naturally plays up stories of sexual relationships between the players (along with the accompanying drugs and the party life) but also adds a dash of real-world issues facing orchestras everywhere. There are eye-opening scenes of musicians dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, union negotiations concerned with pay, bathroom breaks and health care, as well as fundraising lunches, patron receptions and the myriad other ways orchestras beg for survival by way of donations from the one percenters.
The talent behind the series is just as impressive as the cast. Mozart is created by Paul Weitz (Grandma, About a Boy), Roman Coppola (screenwriter for Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited), Tony-nominated writer and director Alex Timbers and Jason Schwartzman (who also stars as podcaster B Sharpe). The are also the hands-on executive producers who’ve written and/or directed a number of episodes. Schwartzman even earned his first directing credit for the second season’s fourth episode, “Touché Maestro, Touché.”
Though the core cast of the series is lacking in racial diversity, the featured female characters, in particular, are fantastically well-rounded. Lola Kirke plays Hailey the orchestra’s newbie oboe player and Rodrigo’s assistant. She may be an ingenue, but Hailey’s not a shrinking violet, either. She can quietly stand up for herself, but also understands her place in the pecking order, deferring to the sage advice of the veteran players. She’s always up for new experiences and isn’t quite sure about fully committing to her relationship with her dancer boyfriend; in essence, she’s a typical 20-something in the city. Equally impressive is Saffron Burrows as the cellist Cynthia who’s the cool, calm voice of reason among the players. She’s the longtime, on-and-off mistress to conductor emeritus Thomas (Malcolm McDowell), but look for sparks to fly between Cynthia and union lawyer Nina (Gretchen Mol) in season two. Also adding to the roster of great female characters is Broadway veteran Bernadette Peters as the symphony’s president, Gloria, who’s wrangling rich donors to keep the orchestra afloat. Her character blossoms personally in season two—and we even get to hear Peters sing. Debra Monk is also notable as first chair oboist Betty, who’s been around the block or two. She’s prickly toward newcomer Hailey, but it comes from a place of self-preservation. She knows that her livelihood is threatened, and there aren’t a lot of options for old oboe players.
Mozart in the Jungle included a great roster of guest actors and cameo appearances by classical music stars in season one. There were memorable turns by American Idol-turned Broadway star Constantine Maroulis as a histrionic Oedipus, John Hodgman as a wealthy patron and Wallace Shawn as a neurotic pianist. The trend continues in season two, with Gustavo Dudamel popping up in for a fun role in the first episode, “Stern Papa,” playing opposite Bernal. (The character of Rodrigo is loosely based on Dudamel.) Look for music greats Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell and Dermot Mulroney, playing a bad boy cellist, to all appear in Schwartzman’s episode, “Touché Maestro, Touché.”
?The new season of Mozart in the Jungle is available on Amazon Prime, beginning on Dec. 30.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.