Since its first public announcement in September 2017, jazz fans and Damien Chazelle stans alike have anxiously awaited the release of Netflix’s The Eddy. Touted as a musical series with a soundtrack by Emmy-winning songwriter Glen Ballard, it hearkened to the star executive producer’s recent hit, La La Land, which charmed critics and audiences alike with its romantic take on show business and life in Los Angeles. These expectations of a long-form serialized upbeat musical will leave some bitterly disappointed while offering others a humble glimpse into an emotionally resonant story of love, compassion, and hardship set in Paris, France.
Centered around a suburban jazz club, The Eddy strives to capture a veristic look at the people who live there. It is this sense of naturalism and honesty that sets it apart from many of its companions; the countless shows on streaming platforms that are either meticulously planned or haphazardly produced. Just like every moment of Ballard’s frenetically bewitching soundtrack, a dynamic and intimate sense of fluidity accompanies the duration of the show’s seven episodes, each an hour in length. Instead of focusing on the romanticism most famously associated with Parisian media and jazz music, The Eddy opts to focus on the difficulties of mundane life in the self-proclaimed “greatest city in the world”, complete with multi-linguistic depictions of rich diversity that bring the cityscape to life in an incomparable way.
The entire show is built around the transcendence of human emotion, the indescribable empathy that exists only in this form of entertainment. Its intentions are best revealed during countless live performances, moments of musical and emotional clarity made possible by a specially organized band of jazz musicians. The clear portrayal of human passion, hardship, and dedication sits comfortably into the genre of vérité filmmaking. A niche that is more akin to slice-of-life, wandering narratives than highly stylized dramas of similar content matter. A wide variety of cultures and customs are brought to life in The Eddy, which primarily follows the inhabitants of its titular club in the midst of financial and societal pressures. Its intimate, careful depiction of struggles dealing with the healthcare system, poverty, and prejudice are timely and tasteful, serving to eliminate any sense of allure in the livelihoods of an average Paris citizen.
The first seven episodes focus on the personal lives of a certain member of the standout ensemble cast before the finale, simply titled ‘The Eddy,’ collides each emotional climax in a beautifully cathartic, anticlimactic hodge-podge of authentic cacophony. For better and worse, the show acts as a celebration of life – taking its time to explore grief, love, and the gritty details of living. Whether the final product manages to connect its kinetic storytelling to such a wide, meandering storyline in a consistently engaging manner is anyone’s call. However, the clearly impassioned and thoughtful efforts behind every moment are enough to compel.
A vortex of sound,
Dissolving you down
To the essence
Of secret desires
That midnight inspires,
Music will flow,
Candles will glow.
Pulling you under,
So reads the first verse of the show’s theme song, which perfectly describes the seductively stripped-down, quintessential nature of the show.
The series begins its two inaugural episodes with direction by acclaimed auteur Damien Chazelle. For those familiar with his filmography, especially Whiplash, his affinity for all things jazz is surely not something new or surprising. His involvement on the show, according to Ballard, was largely thanks to his work on the 2014 smash hit. His participation will draw many’s initial interests, but it cannot be understated how unique and different this work is. In what may surprise many fans, Chazelle’s work on the show largely returns to his freshman roots, shot on 16mm film in the genuine, truthful style of French cinéma vérité. Audiences will be reminded of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the low-budget musical film lauded by many critics as a dry-run for his later Oscar-winning La La Land.
Like in his undergraduate film, Chazelle’s episodes are the only to fully embrace and push the bounds of the naturalism associated with vérité, going uninterrupted for much longer periods in order to let the audience experience the setting in an uncontaminated fashion. Tracking shots bring the city streets to life, contextualizing the environment in which our characters find themselves. Unmoving shots of morning routines remind us that, though fictionalized, these characters have to go about each aspect of their lives as the viewer does. While the rest of the episodes are filmed in the more standardized digital format, Chazelle’s documentarian approach to the story of the people remains highly influential throughout the course of the show.
It is no surprise that the highlight of Chazelle’s direction is his sense of musicality in movement; every moment is imbued with a dance-like flow – a kind of magical quality that exists simultaneously in reality and in the heightened version thereof. It is a paradox; reality can only be faithfully expressed through perfect imperfection. A shaky oner tracking its way through a live band as they pour their entire reserves of soul and energy into music holds a spontaneity of emotion that has been absent in Chazelle’s more refined works. Whiplash is frantic yet precise. La La Land is smooth and gushing, but The Eddy is all and more, just as life itself. Just as attending a live performance can never be compared to hearing a song over the radio, listening to jazz music is different from watching jazz music. That is the distinction The Eddy sets out to describe. Life cannot be described as anything other than itself; it can only retain its shape and resonance if captured and played back in a pure state.
As aforementioned, the largest beneficiary of this true-to-life quality is the show’s performances, acting and musical. André Holland fills the role of a pianist-turned-band leader with grace, the twinkling notes of his baby grand matching the beauty of Joanna Kulig’s soaring voice as the band’s lead singer, Maja. The production team prioritized musicianship above acting talent, selecting a number of first-time actors for their instrumental abilities to fill out the ensemble – many of whom were members of the original “The Eddy” band before the collection of 30-some-odd original songs were adapted into a limited series. The decision paid off extremely well and produced the stunningly captivating soundtrack; over 70 songs that fill the series with life and purpose.
Actress Amandla Stenberg shines as Julie, the daughter of Holland’s Elliot Udo, bringing with her a constant sense of energetic curiosity and teenage angst. It is thanks to the friendly, comfortable chemistry between her and Holland that the show works on a fundamental level. The caring disposition of Elliot is established throughout the series and emphasized through his growing relationship with his daughter in the face of distrust and grief. The entire ensemble acts as a familial unit, but Elliot’s committed dedication to his daughter only further demonstrates the growth of his character throughout the series.
The show falls somewhat short of its ambitions in the second half. While one can admire its more laid back approach to storytelling, it does take a while to make real progress on a storyline that is introduced in even the first episode. When significant developments do begin to occur, the main antagonistic force goes from a grounded, dangerous evil – that already stands out as cartoonish in comparison to the commonfolk protagonists – to a hysterically outlandish villain with ambiguous (if not confusing) motivations. It turns the realistically morose atmosphere of the show into a cartoonish struggle against a stereotypic foe. While characters boast countless creeds and relatable personalities within The Eddy, the show opts to turn its villains into Russian mobsters with overused, thick accents and unexplained motivations. A real shame since the series made meaningful progress in keeping the darker underbelly of Paris in shadow, using its vague nature to contrast the struggles of the small, inconsequential protagonists. Instead, it becomes a frustrating line of contrived decisions on behalf of the characters.
Further, the final episode ends on an uncertain note. When seen as a means of true-to-life storytelling, this ending is more than acceptable. It is favorable, perfect even. In being anticlimactic, the show is truthful to its own nature, faithful to life’s shortcomings in satisfying dramatism. But as the show escalates to a reality-heightened conflict, one cannot help but be disappointed to see that comically hyperbolized foe be matched with nothing other than a reuniting dance number. Although, it is admittedly the most heartwarming moment of the entire show that somewhat encapsulates its themes and messages. This could very well be sequel bait, but with the first run having been in production for nearly a decade, it is hard to believe that a comparable and well crafted second season will be coming any time soon.
The ingenuity of the show is admirable, its considerately crass approach to drama. The Eddy itself feels like its namesake, a swirling vortex of water that runs counter to the surrounding current. It spends a great deal of time circling in on itself, indulging in its unique style to the point of hypnotic redundancy. Sometimes its churning whirlpool is loud and overpowering, gripping the viewer relentlessly with its tense tendrils of emotion. Though most often, it is quiet and subdued – a humble spiral of relatability and grounded reality. Comfort can be found in such a clear and stylistic vision. In spite of its sometimes off-putting, unconventional aesthetic and dawdling narrative style, it manages to find glamour in the beauty of the mundane.
Je lui donne quatre étoiles.