Netflix UK TV review: The Eddy
Ivan Radford | On 08, May 2020
You don’t have to be a detective to know that Damien Chazelle likes jazz. From Whiplash to La La Land, his films haven’t just featured jazz-infused soundtracks, but have also featured characters who talk at length about how jazz is dying. His new Netflix series, The Eddy, flips that on its head to create a gorgeously virtuosic celebration of jazz as the beating heart of a rag-tag community. The people in it are the ones who are dying. Jazz? It’s the only thing keeping them alive.
The series takes its name from the nightclub at the show’s centre, which is run by Elliot Udo (André Holland). A former pianist, and former New Yorker, he fled the USA for the backstreets of Paris. It’s inevitable, then, that his life there should be interrupted by the arrival of his daughter, Julie (a wonderful Amandla Stenberg), who joins him from New York after her mother sends her to international school in the French capital.
She turns up just as everything else starts to go out of tune: the charming, optimistic Farid (a sadly under-used Tahar Rahim) has landed the club in debt with criminal gangs in an attempt to stop it going under. The result puts them all in danger, leaves Farid out of sight for much of the runtime, and his wife, Amira (Leila Bekhti), putting on a brave face.
The problem is that with Farid off-screen, the rest of the frame gets notably darker and more glum. It’s an intentional move by Chazelle, not least because of the grubby, gritty visual aesthetic that matches the rundown locations and un-touristy vibe. But it’s also one that leaves the show sagging slightly when it should be soaring – Jack Thorne’s screenplay serving up a fairly rote criminals-collecting-money-they’re-owed plot doesn’t help much.
But when The Eddy gets it right, it’s dizzyingly good stuff. That’s mostly when the music is in full flow, with the songs all originals penned by Glen Ballard and performed by a house band that’s composed of real musicians – take a bow Randy Kerber, Ludovic Louis, Lada Obradovic, Jowee Omicil and Damian Nueva Cortes. Leading them is a sensational Joanna Kulig, who sings their numbers with a mix of passion, disdain and frustration – not least because they’re written by Elliot, who had a thing with her that ended in a distinctly minor key.
“I wish you sung like that last night,” he quips, in one of their lighter moments. André Holland, who hasn’t had such a prominent lead role since The Knick, is blisteringly good as the worn-out musician, all heart and no common sense, all frayed clothes and no maturity. He wants the band to be better than it is, but has forgotten how to make that happen: let them have fun.
It’s a message that’s unintentionally underlying the programme itself, which deftly jumps between characters for each episode as work our way through the ensemble’s key players. Thorne’s dialogue seamlessly slides from one language to the next, and the cast’s chemistry is superbly believable – especially when Adil Dehbi’s naive bartender Sim and Stenberg’s wayward schoolgirl flirt with each other.
It’s a shame, then, that the cast don’t get more chance to show levity and colour outside of their musical performances. That said, the contrast makes them stand out all the more – particularly one sequence where the musicians surprise Amira when she comes home one day, and the exhilarating sense of compassion and unity is as tangible as the smoke lingering in the nightclub air. The result may not always work as a character drama, but it works as a portrait of characters who live for the few moments when jazz brightens up their existence; Holland’s Udo, we learn, hasn’t played the piano publicly since his son passed away, which brings a tenderness to the fleeting notes his fingers skirt over in private.
Chazelle buzzes with the rush of capturing the music as it unfolds, his camera gliding with handheld immediacy from drums to piano to trombone to bass. His opening two episodes set the pace for the rest of the show. The rest of it drags more than it rushes, but for jazz fans, the bars when it all clicks are just the right tempo.
The Eddy is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.