The Eddy review: Brilliant music and expertly crafted characters stumble as they dance to the tunes of a half-baked plot
The Eddy weaves together stories of well-written characters at a Parisian jazz club. But as music takes centre stage, the plot struggles.
The Eddy, an eight-part miniseries Netflix Original, centres around the struggling Parisian jazz club The Eddy. Its co-founder, Farid, an energetic, jovial man, is murdered in the first episode, setting the tone for the dimly lit, somber series that follows.
The death acts as a tipping point, following which the lives of the other co-founder Eliot, his widow Amira, members of the house band, and other characters are all thrust into a chaotic disarray, each feeling lost in a different way.
While Farid managed the club’s finances, the music and band were Eliot’s responsibilities. Now, besides trying to hold together his own life, the club on which everything depends, and the band for whom he is trying to secure a deal with a record label, Eliot deals with the grief of losing a dear friend.
Following Farid’s death, his precariously balanced finances falls apart, exposing involvement with criminals and a gang, which Eliot must also now tackle, also tackling the detectives on the case, who are deeply suspicious of him. And added to this is the arrival of his rebellious teenage daughter Julie, with whom he shares a turbulent relationship.
While Eliot seems like the protagonist, several other characters are given strong footing as each of the eight episodes is told from the perspective of a different character. The last episode is the perspective of The Eddy itself, situating the club as a character as well, given how closely intertwined it is with all their lives.
In a Paris not often featured on screen, of immigrants, graffiti walls, criminals, and offbeat clubs, the dark side of a city that popular imagination describes as romantic and cultural, The Eddy serves as the ideal backdrop against which the struggles and complications of each character play out.
This format offers a platform to different voices, patiently and keenly exploring each. With this, the show offers some superb character sketches, of people who are fleshed out, real, and gripping. It is the sort of storytelling that makes a cliché like the tortured musician seem a believable, genuine life story. It made me wish there were more episodes, simply because I wanted to hear from every character, because the ones that do not have the 60 odd minutes to themselves are for the most part, disappointingly one-dimensional.
The show also excels at meditating on the intimate, personal moments of the lives, with the camera making you feel like you are standing right there in the room with those characters. Like Farid’s last rites and Muslim burial ceremony, for instance, every moment of which is drawn out and felt. Or when Jude – often addressed “Hey, Jude,” which I fully expected and appreciated – serenades the woman he loves on her wedding day, and then quietly slips out, a brilliant sequence in itself. Or Maja sharing joints with Julie, Katerina cleaning toilets, Sim dancing shirtless in his room, and Eliot tearing up as he finally plays the piano, among many others.
One such moment in the fifth episode ‘Maja,’ that signals a turn back toward hope, is evidence of the writers’ prowess in drawing out characters, as they bring genuineness to the tired trope of a man chasing a woman down at an airport. Earlier in the episode, Julie, when talking to Maja, confirms, “When you sign, you sing to him.” And then at the airport, Eliot, in an outburst of honesty – being one of the few times he loses his composure – asks her to help him, tells her why he is distant, and in his vulnerability, adds, “But, when I couldn’t play anymore, I could write for you.”
The Eddy generously focuses on such private moments that are emotionally charged, and leave an impression; the ones that make a life special.
Also, importantly, the type of moments for which visuals are an especially suited medium of storytelling, relying heavily on eye contact and body language, and often laced with loaded silences. A talented cast brings these moments to life, with strong performances by Andre Holland (Eliot), Amandla Stenberg (Julie), and Leïla Bekhti (Amira) among others.
However, for The Eddy, music is the thing. Jazz is this magnificent beast, towering over but also sheltering all their lives, seeping into but also emanating out of every character, its part in their lives playing out most touchingly at Farid’s funeral. The music introduces new moods and transitions, drives characters forward and holds them back, starts when it pleases and stops only when it has had its say.
In a show that is generally serious and requires concentrated, invested watching, the transitions between scenes most often come not on lighthearted notes – the world, in fact, seems to have little space for laughter and brightness – but from music. Full songs are played out, as rehearsals and performances in the club, as relief between scenes.
The show seems to exist around, and because of, the music, instead of the other way around. The creator Jack Thorne himself seems to have given in to the compositions of Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber, and the mood of music dominating is set by Damien Chazelle, of Whiplash and La La Land-fame, who directs the first two episodes.
The Eddy vibrantly, somberly, calmly, and frenziedly brings alive jazz, and expertly captures the atmosphere of a struggling Parisian jazz club, leaving an ache with a viewer who misses live music during the coronavirus lockdown.
But for a viewer not particularly interested in jazz, the extensive music is going to seem strenous to sit through. Added to this is a lazy plot. The entire murder mystery angle, instead of serving as a point of excitement or building any tension, only seems to distract from lives of the characters otherwise. The run-ins with cops and criminals lack authenticity, and what plays out – scary gang members who will not leave them alone, and detectives who are always suspicious – is a sequence of events the tune of which would seem too washed up even to sixth graders.
From this perspective, the narratives of different characters would also have worked better as individual short films but together as a series, the storytelling lacks in structure and cohesion. Instead of venturing into a half-baked murder mystery, perhaps in an attempt to keep viewers engaged, I wish the show had just unapologetically been its truer self.
The Eddy left me wondering how groundbreaking I would call the show had it had stuck to what it so clearly wants to do — creating countless moments of unraveling, and gone further in that direction, giving itself over completely to experimental storytelling.
The Eddy is now streaming on Netflix.
All images from Netflix.
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