Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 7th, 2020
The Eddy (Showrunner = Jack Thorne; Directors = Houda Benyamina/Damien Chazelle/Laïla Marrakchi/Alan Poul, 2020) 4 out of 4 stars.
Over the course of 8 gripping episodes (approximately an hour each, give or take), the new Netflix limited series The Eddy follows jazz pianist and club owner Elliot Udo as he struggles to manage his venue’s faltering finances, fend off the predations of organized crime, and plan the recording of a debut album by his band, all the while attempting to reconcile with his volatile teenage daughter. Set in Paris, The Eddy (the name of the club, as well as of the band and of a song Elliot has written) features a multiracial and multiethnic cast of fully engaging characters, many of whose backstories are explored in the episodes bearing their names. Despite these seeming tangents (though everything comes together in the end), there is one main plot thrust, throughout, which is Elliot’s recovery from past and present trauma to move forward into a more stable future. Written with simultaneous high drama and great nuance, mostly by showrunner Jack Thorne (BBC One’s His Dark Materials), and directed by four directors at the top of their game – Houda Benyamina (Divines), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Laïla Marrakchi (Rock the Casbah) and Alan Poul (creator of HBO’s majestic Six Feet Under series) – The Eddy is as much about the changing tempo of life as about music. Every beat counts.
Indeed, from the get-go, there is tension in the air, with Elliot (a superb André Holland, High Flying Bird) running outside to catch a music producer on his way out, hoping that he likes what he’s just heard. His response? “When are you going to play, Elliot?” To which our protagonist can only shrug. Years earlier, back in America, something happened that has made it hard for him, a world-famous musician, to return to the stage. What he can still do is write, and it’s his music we hear whenever the band plays (actually composed by Glen Ballard, who also gathered the members of the onstage combo, all of whom play their actual instruments and/or sing). His business partner and best friend, Farid (Tahar Rahim, Daguerrotype), has his own worries, the result of bad decisions taken to shore up the club’s precarious money situation. When Eastern European heavies appear after closing, Elliot starts to get some idea of what Farid has been doing, though he has more pressing concerns in the pending arrival of 16-year-old Julie (Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give) and his cratering relationship with band singer Maja (Joanna Kulig, Cold War). Events about to transpire will bring these thugs to the forefront of his concern, however.
Rounding out the excellent ensemble are Leïla Bekhti (Nous York), as Farid’s wife, Amira (Rahim and she are, in fact, real-life spouses); relative newcomer Adil Dehbi, as the club’s bartender Sim, who turns out to have hidden depths; and musicians Randy Kerber, Ludovic Louis, Damian Nueva, Lada Obradovic and Jowee Omicil, all of whom deliver fine performances as actors, beyond their instrumental skills. France has many issues of socio-economic inequality and racism not dissimilar to those in the United States, but Paris, like New York, is a city that thrives on its diverse array of cultures, making of The Eddy a vibrant cinematic dialogue on race, class, immigration, gender and more. And yet it never feels polemical, since what drives the proceedings is the heart-pounding intrigue.
I am no particular lover of jazz, and so began the series with some trepidation, wondering why I should watch. By the end of the first episode, I was hooked. Of particular note is how well Thorne and his fellow writers sketch each of the main characters, reminding us that everyone, no matter their apparent status, has something to say and a story to tell. We are all in this collective metaphysical experiment together, and we most often fail when we go it alone. That’s a lesson Elliot learns after many a solo defeat; there’s just no percentage in freezing out those who would help you, or those you can help. Just as Julie must adapt to the fact that, yes, she has pain and deserves to be heard, yet must think outside herself, so must Elliot adapt to make room for her (and Maja) amid his other preoccupations. These are all themes that transcend the specificity of the setting, though that setting is also the key to our interest, brilliantly rendered as it is. The music is also pretty spectacular, whatever my initial reservations. Let The Eddy swirl around you, then, and pull you into its powerful narrative current.