The Eddy: Will Gompertz reviews Netflix drama directed by Oscar-winning Damien Chazelle ★★★☆☆
The Eddy is an indie jazz club on the rundown outskirts of Paris, co-owned by Elliot (André Holland) and Farid (Tahar Rahim). They are good friends. Elliot used to be a famous American jazz pianist. Farid didn't, which is why he's in charge of the business side, while his cooler-than-thou colleague looks after the music.
They have a house band. It is on the cusp of a record deal with a prestigious label. But they're not quite at it. Particularly singer Maja (Joanna Kulig), who is struggling to get over an affair with Elliot, who in turn is struggling to get over his own personal issues, which are the cause for him stepping out of the limelight.
Farid doesn't have any such cares, he has two lovely children and a stocking-wearing wife, Amira (Leïla Bekhti). But he too has struggles.
That's how it is with jazz.
Money is his problem. The Eddy isn't going steady.
Nor is Elliot. He's broken up with Maja and split up with his wife, who stayed in America (we meet her, he was right to move continents). The last thing he needs is their bolshy 16-year-old daughter coming to stay and giving him a hard time. But when your lucks out…
Julie (Amandla Stenberg) duly arrives with a bad attitude and a big suitcase, which is a lot to squeeze onto a mis-firing Vespa. By the time they arrive at Elliot's apartment she's mouthed-off at some dodgy types driving a sedan, poked her nose into her dad's love-life, and demanded a cigarette with all the grace of President Trump at a press conference.
And this, we find out, is her good side.
It's not all woe, though.
We are thankful for the music, the songs Maja's singing, thankful for all the joy they're bringing.
Not to Elliot, obviously. He's too wrapped up in his own world, until he gets too wrapped up in Farid's, which he discovers is an uncouth underworld populated by gangsters who think The Bird is a girlfriend, not one of the greatest saxophonists of all time.
At least he's got the The Eddy, his gritty subterranean jazz joint, a million metaphorical miles from the grand mainstream arts institutions of the 1st arrondissement. Its edgy, multi-cultural clientele is there to escape from the grim realities of their daily life, which disappear from view the moment they see the band play. They've come to be taken away by them.
As you will be if you like jazz.
The musical numbers aren't so much allowed time to breathe, but to luxuriate in a warm bath of televisual love followed by a lengthy manicure.
I've seen spoilt children less indulged.
Large chunks of each of the eight one-hour-plus episodes are devoted to the house band performing, jamming, rehearsing, riffing. It is the source of energy around which all else revolves: imagine Roddy Doyle's The Commitments (sans comedy) meeting French police procedural Spiral, and you'll have a sense of the vibe.
This is not to suggest that The Eddy is a prog-rock length epic music promo, but to recognise jazz is not only the star of the show, but also its basis.
The concept for the series started with a meeting in 2013 between exec producer Alan Poul (Six Feet Under) and lyricist and record producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill), who had written a bunch of jazz songs and assembled a band to perform them (two members of which are in the tv series).
The narrative came second, which is rarely a good thing in a drama.
There is so much that is right with The Eddy: The Cinema Vérité handheld camerawork instigated by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land), who directed the first two episodes.
The excellent casting (there's a standout performance from Adil Dehbi as The Eddy's bar-hand with ambitions), the multilingual script, the honest depiction of contemporary life on the edgelands of Paris, the cinematography, the actors's performances, the musicians for goodness sake.
They're all great.
But the story isn't.
It is plodding at best: an all-too predictable sequence of events with as many twists and turns as a Roman road.
Quite how this came to be is difficult to fathom.
The series was written by the multi-award-winning Jack Thorne, a very talented man with a string of critical and commercial hits to his name (Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, Skins, This is England, His Dark Materials).
There's nothing technically wrong with the script, which is refreshingly bold in the way it interweaves languages – sometimes mid speech. The problem is the plot, which would barely sustain a cheap-and-cheerless 1980's TV drama, let alone this oceanic-sized Netflix series which is becalmed on a sea of two-dimensional clichés: a heroin addicted bassist (called Jude leading to the immortal line "hey, Jude"), a stroppy daughter, a wrong'un brother, snobby in-laws, a bitchy ex-wife, a cash-strapped club.
The Eddy needs an eddy.
Maybe there's a grand plan afoot, and seasons two, three and four are already in the works, and the glacial speed of the story thus far will seem like the smartest set-up in the history of television. Maybe.
But even the most committed improv jazz player knows there comes a point when freestyling has to resolve into something more concrete otherwise everybody falls asleep. That won't happen in The Eddy if you like the music, but if you don't you might well find yourself nodding off to the sound of the double bass.
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