Few shows on TV — or on TV-on-the-internet— manage to be as patently and meaningfully feel-good as Amazon’s screwball classical-music-centric comedy Mozart in the Jungle. Its second season hit streaming just prior to the new year. The half-hour comedy is so endlessly, comfortingly watchable that intrepid new viewers can easily plow through both of its ten-episode seasons in just a misspent day or two.
While undertaking this kind of regimen with gritty dramas is inevitably demoralizing, Mozart continues to deliver a warm, humanistic energy and unforced wit that broadens its appeal far beyond devotees of the element of the music industry on which it focuses.
Fans of the show’s first season will be happy to discover that its second doubles down on its greatest strengths, rather than attempting to switch gears or morph into a more standard-issue show type. A pure soap opera it is not. Yes, the ambiguous relationship between Hailey “Jai-Alai” Rutledge (Lola Kirke) and Maestro Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) intensifies, but the two are apart for most of the season — hung up on their respective side romantic dalliances and waylaid “curses” that manifest as unexplained hearing problems. Hailey has finally detached from him out of professional and personal necessity, and forced him to find someone else to brew his matte. The show runners know that it would be unwise to clean up this romantic tête-à-tête if they wanted to try for a third season. The relationship strings Mozart along dramatically, always leaving something pleasantly out of reach.
With more carefully drawn characters at play, the comic playing field opens up way beyond Bernal’s inevitably hilarious semi-improvisations. Of course, his contributions retain their effervescent appeal, and still center the show. Amazingly, the “Jai-Alai” joke — a staple since the show’s pilot — never ceases to be as funny, even after several dozens of iterations.
Producers and creators Paul Weitz, Jason Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola also wisely realize that part of Mozart’s appeal is how scatterbrained it is. Falling into too stable of a comedic structure could easily rob the show of a healthy amount of its charm. Therefore, they indulge in expanding side characters like Warren (who Rodrigo refers to as “Wurn-By”), “Union” Bob, and Rodrigo’s new assistant Michael — all of whom played more marginal roles in Season 1. Others, like the Machiavellian first oboist Betty, are slightly scaled back.
The plot of the first half of Mozart in the Jungle is pleasantly amorphous; the more serious conflicts lurk in the background as our characters fall into outlandish and often hilarious scenarios. The orchestra’s trip to Mexico is one of the highlights of the season, and the visit from punkish enfant terrible conductor Lennox is the kind of zany, half-cogent parody that defines this odd show’s sense of humor. The stakes ramp up only in the final episodes, which wax more dramatic and even poignant: Both the symphony’s management and value system are in serious trouble. The ever-more-comically evil millionaire donor and orchestra board member Edward Biben (Brennan Brown) makes a bid to oust Gloria and Rodrigo from the leadership, Pembridge’s struggle to finish his symphony turns out to be about something bigger, and things must be done the hard way to solidify a long, happier future for the symphony.
Like — dare I say — life itself, Mozart moves in and out of linear plot modules and pockets of clear tension, floating in a pleasant free fall. Its loose sensibility makes ever more sense as the show goes on, and becomes its main signature. As easy as it is to plow through all 20 installments of Mozart in the Jungle, there is something to be said for stringing it out: After its ten hours are up, there’s little else out there — short of choice entries out of the Preston Sturges or Whit Stillman filmography — that deliver this type of situational comedy so satisfyingly.
As always, there are plenty of spectacular staples of the classical music canon punctuating the journey. You can find the full soundtrack credits here if you want to bone up on your knowledge. Either way, here’s a sample from the Maurice Ravel classic that accompanies one of the show’s most wonderfully cathartic moments, conducted by Rodrigo’s real-life inspiration, the Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, to close.
Watch Mozart in the Jungle Season 2 on Amazon Video now.