Again representing the equivalent of a pleasant overture rather than a master concerto, “Mozart in the Jungle” returns for a second season, playing the equivalent of small ball, and relying on impeccable casting to buoy its low-key material. Amazon is, charitably, trying to hit ’em where they ain’t – and less charitably, dumping the show – by launching it a few days before New Year’s, perhaps recognizing that this isn’t a huge prestige title or a particularly commercial one, except among those apt to swoon at classical-music cameos. That said, the program’s breezy qualities compensate for its pianissimo approach to storytelling.
Picking up where it left off, the show makes the most of Gael Garcia Bernal (a Golden Globe nominee) as Rodrigo, the alternately imperious, needy, brilliant, eccentric and childlike maestro of the New York Symphony. Beyond an uncomfortable attraction to his assistant/oboist, Hailey (Lola Kirke), Rodrigo must fret about a possible strike by the orchestra, while embarking on a Latin American tour that is filled with temptations for various characters on multiple levels. Those include, but aren’t limited to, a new lawyer working on behalf of the musicians, played by Gretchen Mol.
The cast, generally, is superior to the complexity of the situations, with the series delivering its most enjoyable moments via interludes that often do little or nothing to advance the plot. In a later episode, for example, that includes a semi-drunken evening shared by Rodrigo and Thomas (Malcolm McDowell), the conductor he replaced, who is now busying himself composing. Ditto for an orchestra softball league, considered an insanely risky endeavor, given the potential consequences of anybody damaging a finger.
Expanding the venues – from a pit stop with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl to Mexico City – does add scenic color to the proceedings, as do cameos by the likes of Gustavo Dudamel and Lang Lang.
For the most part, though, this is one of those tweener series, existing in that nether realm that’s interesting, but seldom genuinely funny or truly dramatic. And while that tone is on the order of “Transparent” — thus far Amazon’s biggest breakthrough from an awards perspective — the setting lacks the cultural urgency and timeliness that has made that show resonate beyond what is likely a relatively tiny audience, and lived up to the “Every show should be someone’s favorite” mantra adopted by Amazon executives.
Granted, Amazon has been engaged in a trial-and-error process, and one can see why the service – best associated with getting packages there quickly – would be reluctant to part with this cast, as well as a concept that taps into an upscale niche that might especially appreciate the behind-the-curtain look at the egos and hurdles associated with this world. Again, the nuts-and-bolts management issues range from courting well-heeled donors to seeking to generate interest among a younger demo, tasks that fall to Bernadette Peters’ character, Gloria.
Offering a view from the balcony, “Mozart in the Jungle” is a pleasant enough addition to Amazon’s playlist. But to the extent these services are largely defined by their headliners, well, that baton has already been passed.