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What is Mozart in the Jungle? A curious consumer’s guide to a show that exists

Have you heard of the TV show Mozart in the Jungle? I hadn’t until this morning, but apparently there’s already been an entire season of it, and season two premieres tonight at midnight on Amazon Instant Video. Now I, a person who has not seen Mozart in the Jungle, will answer all your questions about it.

Who decided it would be a good idea to name a show Mozart in the Jungle?

Mozart in the Jungle is based on Blair Tindall’s memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, about her time spent playing the oboe in high-brow orchestras like the New York Philharmonic. It was published in 2005, when everyone was still chasing the Kitchen Confidential "these professionals aren’t as buttoned up as you’d think" formula. Tindall also has a YouTube show called Where’s Blair in which she visits places around the world and plays the oboe to exotic trees. This is her website.

So the show is about Blair Tindall and trees?

It appears Mozart in the Jungle — written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers — is only very loosely based on Tindall’s memoir, but I can’t say for sure, having neither read the book nor seen the show. It stars Gael García Bernal as the Gordon Ramsay of classical music, Rodrigo De Souza, a new conductor at the fictional New York Symphony. Rodrigo has been described by those who have seen the show as "childlike," "eccentric but brilliant" and an "oversexed and unconventional enfant terrible." All of this will be obvious from the first time you see Rodrigo: he wears kimonos and has long, unruly hair with gentle, carefully waved tresses that hang out of his ponytail and frame his tortured genius face.

mozart-in-the-jungle

The other characters in the show all revolve around the New York Symphony like little fretful moons in cocktail attire clutching woodwinds. Cynthia Taylor (Saffron Burrows), the second cello in the Symphony, is the wiser, older friend of Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), a struggling oboist. Hailey starts sleeping with Alex Merriweather (Peter Vack), another long-haired charmer boy who has the blessed distinction of being both a bartender and a ballet dancer. Bernadette Peters plays Gloria Windsor, the president of the Symphony who wants her employees to be modern, cool, totally hip renegades. Malcolm McDowell plays Thomas Pembridge, the aging classical music wizard whose sole purpose is to hate Rodrigo, because everyone loves him, his hair, and his avant garde way of waving a baton.

This is what I have so far: good hair, flailing symphony trying to prove its relevance, angry old guy — What's the point of this show?

The elevator pitch of Mozart in the Jungle appears to have been, Hey, classical music can be cool, too. It tries to make the case that classical musicians are not the graceful, formal-attire-wearing, Chopin-discussing intellectuals you’ve always imagined them as. When Cynthia first meets Hailey, she says menacingly, "I thought I knew every oboist in town," which is something I also like to say to people I have just met. Oh, and woodwinds aren’t the only things being clutched here. The show has been described as having "gratuitous" sex scenes. You’re too bad, Mozart in the Jungle!

What dated cultural references should I keep an eye out for?

2009 is poised for a comeback in Mozart in the Jungle’s second season. During the opening title cards of every episode this season, a different version of Phoenix’s "Lisztomania" will play in place of a theme song. It’s beautifully altruistic of Mozart’s creators to bring this festival dance party relic back to the forefront of cool-kid consciousness. And just imagine what it would sound like on a flute! Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars is Roman Coppola’s brother-in-law?

Okay so maybe the soundtrack is off, but is the show actually any good?

Hard to say. Some people seem to like it, and some people don’t. It manages to seem both dramatic and generally plotless, which is an impressive feat even if it doesn’t make for great TV. According to the AV Club, one scene features Hailey and a flautist taking shots of liquor as they drunkenly volley challenging pieces of music back and forth; this has the potential to be a clever depiction of an illuminating new drinking game, or an attempt to shove comedy into a joyless show.

Because it’s a show about classical music, MitJ has also prompted several puns from publications reviewing the show, who have said it "hits the right notes," "plays some passionate new notes," and "hits a few flat notes." So there you have it: Mozart in the Jungle, a show featuring Gael García Bernal, oboes, sex, and several kinds of notes.