(Netflix. TV review by Peter Jones)
The Eddy is an eight-part drama series set in and around a jazz club in Paris called, yes, The Eddy. The show’s American director Damien Chazelle was previously responsible for two cinema films with a jazz theme: the execrable La La Land, and the hilarious Whiplash.
On the evidence of these, you wouldn’t bet your shirt on Chazelle coming up with anything remotely plausible about jazz or any other topic. After all, in La La Land, “jazz pianist” Ryan Gosling barely needs to snap his fingers at the end of the film in order to conjure up the vibrant, successful modern jazz club of his dreams, bustling with excited, well-dressed hipsters. Whiplash, made two years earlier, in which music college rehearsal rooms are stalked by a terrifying parade-ground martinet, is even more absurd, albeit a lot more fun than the insipid La La Land. (My favourite Whiplash scene is where Miles Teller rolls his car, only to haul himself out from underneath to stagger on, Terminator-style, to the gig.)
And so to The Eddy, with its episodic narrative, noir-ish Parisian setting, endless fag-smoking, mumbled dialogue, sweaty close-ups and perpetually wandering, and indeed lurching, handheld camera… You get the picture: this is jazz as dark romance. Moody, but also cool (no berets or conspicuous consumption of existentialist philosophy). The show is written by Jack Thorne, who started out on Shameless and Skins, before winning wider acclaim for the TV versions of This is England and the outrageously successful stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Moonlight’s André Holland plays moody (but also cool) Elliot Udo, an expat American pianist and owner of The Eddy, located somewhere in the Paris banlieues, where several languages are spoken, mainly French, English and Arabic. Each episode is told through the eyes of a different character. Elliot’s a washed-up jazz legend who runs the club alongside his fun-loving business manager Farid (Tahar Rahim), who can’t keep his hands off his foxy wife Amira (Leïla Bekhti). Elliot himself has a messy history (natch) with singer Maja (Joanna Kulig), and in the first episode he also gets saddled with his troubled 16-year-old daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg), who turns up in Paris after being kicked out by her mother back in New York.
It turns out Farid owes money to a nasty local gang. When they come looking for him, and can’t find him, they take it out on Elliot. Soon afterwards, something very horrible happens to Farid on his way home. This is the kind of banlieue that featured in La Haine all those years ago – part bohemia, part concrete wasteland, beset with crime, drugs and poverty, and not a little scary. The crime story is the motor that drives the narrative.
Despite the clichés, the standard of the music, created by the immensely experienced team of Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber (who also plays the house band’s pianist), is excellent. Plus the actors are not only playing their instruments but, trust me, they know how to wail. Best of all, Damien Chazelle is in love with jazz, so we get long sequences where the guys are just blowing. This level of authenticity is vanishingly rare in dramas about music. OK, I had my doubts about the way they miked the drums in the final episode, but I guess that’s just nit-picking.
The journalist Camilla Long turned her sneering gaze on The Eddy in the Sunday Times last weekend, consigning it to hell with the kind of deep and bitter loathing that only jazz-haters can muster (along with those who have never seen a foreign language film and/or can’t cope with subtitles). This, if nothing else, made me warm to the show even before I started watching it. And as the episodes went on, my admiration grew. The characters care about each other: when Julie goes off in a strop, everyone runs around the city looking for her, and in the episodes that follow, there are some very touching, unhurried scenes of family life.
So it turns out that The Eddy is not only about jazz but about communities, families, relationships, race and religion, with a 360-degree view of all of them, thanks in part to the regular shifts in point of view. Eight hours of television time gives Chazelle and Thorne the chance to develop not just the characters but the multi-stranded narrative in which they are all enmeshed. I fully accept that if you don’t dig jazz, you probably won’t like The Eddy, but equally, I don’t care: how much jazz is there on TV? You don’t like it? Watch something else!
The Eddy is an engaging, stylish and grown-up piece of work, with plenty of emotional baggage to go around, and some damn fine music along the way. Here’s to season 2.
LINKS: Watch The Eddy on Netflix