The band starts playing. The bar is half-empty. A contradictory feeling of danger and weariness is in the air. Outside is not much better, so it is wise to remain in a place where good music provides moments of relief and distraction. But the music in question is jazz, not exactly interested in pleasing audiences as much as confront them. It is visceral and voluptuous music, valuable for its seductive effect of immersion and not a triumph as easy escapism. In this particular case the band and the bar is called The Eddy, the central focus of a TV mini-series also titled THE EDDY, which introduces a brilliant repertoire of original music composed by Glen Ballard (including one song named The Eddy too).
The show has been produced by Netflix and helmed by the talent of Damien Chazelle (WHIPLASH (2014), LA LA LAND (2016), FIRST MAN (2018)) and other international filmmakers (Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi, and Alan Poul). For Chazelle who directs the first two episodes, this is his first television project after a short but remarkable filmography he has distinguished himself as one of the most important filmmakers of his generation in less than one decade (he is also the youngest recipient to win an Oscar for Best Director). At first glance, this is a suitable project for the American filmmaker considering his affinity for jazz and the musical genre as proven by some of his previous pictures (including his largely unknown debut GUY AND MADELINE ON THE PARK BENCH (2009)). However, THE EDDY is not exactly a Chazelle‘s work as a whole. As a writer (or co-writer) of each episode Jack Thorne deserves the main credit alongside Ballard for delivering the music, which is the prime attribute of this musical TV show set in Paris.
Episode 4 (“Jude”), focuses in a love story about an ex-couple saying goodbye to each other before going their separate ways (yes, you may think instantly in LA LA LAND) a woman says to one of the members of the band: “You’re a mess when you’re not playing music. And I can’t deal with that.” This particular quote would resume the experience of many spectators after watching a couple of episodes of THE EDDY. Since the beginning, the prevalent focus is on Elliot Udo (André Holland), a renowned American musician self-exiled in Paris that hasn’t played any instrument in four years since the death of his son. He commands the bar and the band (both things are usually inseparable) while dealing with circumstances beyond his control: criminal bands, police officers and personal problems of his own or from every member of the group. The double fight of Elliott is for the bar to stay open and for the band to record an album. His life gets more complicated when his problematic teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) decides to move in with Elliott after leaving New York tossed out by her mother.
Paris is portrayed as a multi-cultural place inhabited by immigrants and people of different races with a realistic approach that circumvent any form of glamorization around the so-called “city of love”; it could resemble any other city if it weren’t named. The handheld camera underscores the first distinctive technical feature of the entire series, alongside the quasi-documentary photography and restrained production values. Even considering the Hollywood talent behind the project, THE EDDY seems more comfortable in the form of a rough and austere French co-production driven by stark human sensibilities in the likes of Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas or Michael Haneke. In that sense, we are talking about an atypical TV show whose ambitions and results are not oriented to catch a big audience (unlike the standard Netflix series) instead of persuading a small niche of devotees. A perfect example would be to imagine the differences between pop concerts and jazz joints in relation to the audience they can assemble respectively.
Each episode of THE EDDY is titled after the name of some of the characters (excepting episode 7 “The Eddy”, the series finale). Although Elliot remains as the undisputed protagonist, the opportunity to know much better and deeper secondary characters is what allows the show to shine over the agonizing and suffocating environment that surrounds the main storyline. Without revealing too much about the plot, in the first episode (“Elliot”) the shocking murder of an endearing character sets the tone and defines the story henceforth, so elements of thriller and melodrama encompassed spellbound moments of musical performances. Those performances stay grounded with reality and justified by the fact that happens as formal presentations of the characters as musicians, mainly inside the bar but not limited to that. The most successful moments of the show happen when music becomes a catalyzer of boiling emotions for one or more characters. Sometimes it is a wedding, sometimes a singing street march, any place can lead to a fully realized stage for a musical performance in the blink of an eye. A fine example is episode 3 (“Amira), the best one, a striking contemplation of death and mourning reaching its climax during an impromptu concert at someone’s home. Music accompanies the pain of loss and also transcend it after reminding us that whoever is still alive can feel reassurance to rejoice in the face of beauty, no matter how evanescent it is.
THE EDDY reunites a good ensemble of character actors like Holland, European movie stars like Tahar Rahim, Leïla Bekhti and Joanna Kulig (her singing voice is always a gift, as anyone who saw COLD WAR (2018) attested before), newcomers in the verge of stardom (Amandla Stenberg) and a troupe of promising actors and singers. They create a human mosaic of difficult misfits looking for something greater- and often unattainable- than fortune of fame through art. This romantic vision takes time to be noticed, although is probably the only idealist aspect of the series, as well its moral foundation. Nonetheless, the proposition understands that selling out is usually unavoidable for any artist. There is always a Faustian pact awaiting for that instant of weakness and vulnerability in the guise of different manifestations whether a Mafia boss, a music producer, or a veteran pop singer. In spite of any temptation, THE EDDY defends music as a cohesive craft that transforms lives though provides something more than a raison d’être. It’s a legit work that demands discipline, commitment and willingness to be a team player.
This is not a regular Netflix show for a quick binge-watch experience. The central plot is acceptable while great music and appealing characters fill the spaces that hold our attention. You can enter THE EDDY as someone who listens to jazz the first time, maybe hesitant to accept it in their own terms. Due to the brilliance of its music and the stripped-down musical performances, if you decide to keep going you will find revelatory junctures of ecstasy that will let your soul craving for more, as is common in the jazz as a listening experience.