TV review: Netflix’s The Eddy is more about misery than melody

La La Land director Damien Chazelle sets the tone for this elaborate eight-part musical series set in a Paris jazz club


THE EDDY (Jack Thorne). All eight episodes streaming on Netflix Canada Friday, May 8. Rating: NNN


Like jazz itself, The Eddy is a bit of an acquired taste. When it doesn’t work, it’s inaccessible, self-indulgent and even infuriating. But when it does, you can understand why people get excited about it.

Created by playwright and screenwriter Jack Thorne, performed in multiple languages and featuring an impressive international cast, the eight-part limited series marks a big swing for Netflix: no expense has been spared, from the elaborate location work to the hiring of La La Land Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle as the director of the first two episodes. (The rest are helmed by Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi and executive producer Alan Poul, who take two apiece.)

The Eddy follows the lives of the people who work and play in the eponymous Paris jazz club, owned by American musician Elliot (André Holland) and his wheeler-dealer pal Farid (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim). The French love clubs! The French love jazz! What could go wrong?

Apparently, everything: in the very first episode, some questionable decisions on Farid’s part trigger a series of unfortunate events that jeopardize the club’s future, as well as Elliot’s – and that’s after Elliot’s troubled teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) arrives from New York City, complicating his on-again, off-again relationship with singer Maja (Cold War’s Joanna Kulig).

Things only get more fraught from there, as various police investigations, criminal schemes, addictions and tragedies play on the hearts and souls of Elliot and his ragtag jazz family. The show’s conceit is that every episode focuses on a different character – Farid’s wife Amira (Leïla Bekhti), bass player Jude (Damien Nueva), Julie’s would-be boyfriend Sim (Adil Debhi) and drummer Katarina (Lada Obradovic) all get their own episodes, though the main narrative always comes back to Elliot, partially because he’s the spine that connects everyone else but also because André Holland is an incandescent presence, and why the hell wouldn’t you make your entire show about him.

But whoever’s at the forefront in the moment, there is always music, because the show was built around a songbook written by Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber – and those songs are often played in full, which means at least once per episode The Eddy stops dead while people perform a number.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing: in the second episode, when Julie disappears and Elliot races around the club trying to find her, the band’s frantic rhythms mirror his increasing panic and desperation in the third, an impromptu jam at a wake gradually coalesces into a moment of joyous transcendence for a houseful of people. That’s when the show wrangles its various moving parts into a spectacular whole, though by the fourth episode it’s clear not every episode will manage that feat as effectively.

Thorne’s scripts are committed to a specific form of agitated miserablism, creating a world where bad things constantly happen to his characters in order to push them into making terrible, self-destructive choices that then reverberate outward onto everyone else.

On a show that’s focused on one or two protagonists, that works very well certainly the last two decades of television have been a parade of antiheroes. But The Eddy has a dozen or so principals, all of whom keep making bad decisions in order to raise the collective stakes, and after a while it becomes clear that Thorne and his writers are just going to keep hitting that button, digging the characters deeper and deeper into their respective holes.

Imagine John Cassavetes given an unlimited budget to make an eight-hour movie about difficult artists and the people who love them, and you’d get something like The Eddy. There are some incredibly potent moments, the structure is inventive and the sense of place is powerful… but there are also scenes where talented actors literally run around a set screaming at each other because they’ve hit the top and there’s nowhere else to go.

I don’t know, maybe it’s a jazz thing and it’s better if you watch it performed live. That’s not really an option for The Eddy – but at least you get to see some gifted people giving it their best shot.

@normwilner

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