Created by Jack Thorne
Starring André Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg
As far as runaway fantasies for guys go, you can’t get any more romantic than raising up stakes to be a jazz musician in Paris. Possessing all the glamour but none of the increased risk of death of being, say, a race-car driver in Le Mans or a hang-glider in Rio de Janeiro, playing jazz in Paris affords you a laid-back existence in one of the most picturesque, laissez-faire capitals in Europe.
Let’s sweeten the pot a little more: What if we told you that not only could you take a peek into the jazz subculture of Paris over the course of eight, hour-long episodes, but that Oscar-winning director and dyed-in-the-wool jazz fan Damien Chazelle would be acting as your guide? Put in those terms, Netflix’s The Eddy would be catnip: a spiritual sequel to Chazelle’s immensely enjoyable La La Land that offers you escape from the four corners of lockdown.
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I’m here to tell you that The Eddy is not a Damien Chazelle auteur de force—Chazelle directed the first two episodes and is one among four directors to commandeer the eight-hour miniseries. And if I have to be blunt about it, Chazelle’s episodes are among the weakest in the bunch. That’s because Chazelle has a lot of groundwork to lay—a ton of narrative exposition, for one: The Eddy is named for the jazz club run by respected musician-in-exile Elliot Udo, played by Moonlight’s André Holland, who ran away to Paris and sabotaged his marriage after the death of his son. (The circumstances are not fully explained.)
As the series opens, Elliot has to re-acquaint himself with his other child: a rebellious 16-year-old named Julie (The Hate U Give’s Amandla Stenberg) who had become quite the handful for his ex-wife (Melissa George). In the interim, Elliot has fallen into an affair with the lead singer of his club’s marquee band, a rumpled chanteuse named Maja (Cold War’s Joanna Kulig), and entered into a partnership with longtime friend Farid (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim), an ebullient trumpet player with shady involvements of his own.
Each of The Eddy’s episodes follow a specific denizen of the eponymous club, and it is unfortunate that Chazelle’s twofer has to trace the development of two of the show’s least interesting characters: Elliot and his daughter. Holland is one of those performers who always seems to be in the moment, his instincts attuned to the particular electricity of the scene. It’s just a shame that his traumatized musician is mostly mired in a boilerplate thriller storyline that takes you out of the pleasures and rhythms of the environment.
What’s worse is that Elliot isn’t written by creator Jack Thorne to be a capable character: He is always distracted from one disaster by the onset of another, and he believes he can play the police and the gangsters encroaching on his turf against each other—a capability he woefully demonstrates again and again he does not have.
Meanwhile, Stenberg has the luminosity of a star, but is not allowed to shine by Julie’s expat status. She is a stranger too mired in the peculiar angst of adolescence to serve as an effective conduit into the specialness of The Eddy’s world. It’s not a surprise, then, as the show dives into the lives of the club’s other inhabitants, that The Eddy finally envelops us in the meandering swirls of its music (written by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill collaborator Glen Ballard) and the darkly alluring undercurrents of its grungy Paris setting only from the third episode onwards. That’s because these characters—among them, a grieving Arabic widow (an outstanding Leïla Bekhti), a dissolute Russian drummer (an intense Lada Abradovic), Kulig’s unfulfilled singer—all seem to be more rooted in their milieu; they’re the ticket to what we’ve come to see.
Chazelle also seems to be overcompensating with his restless camera, exerting a Herculean effort to capture life on the fly. The directors who follow him—Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi and Grace and Frankie’s Alan Poul—tame the strenuous vérité stylings of Chazelle’s camerawork and add playful touches of their own. When the camera rides the highs and lows of the show’s Parisian denizens and nods along to the improvised slipstreams of its jazz, The Eddy just flows. They should’ve nixed that shoehorned thriller plot; it just spoils the groove, man.
The Eddy is currently streaming on Netflix.
Photographs from Netflix