This is a mostly spoiler-free review for Hulu’s reboot of High Fidelity, with all 10 episodes now available to stream.
In episode 2 of Hulu’s gender-flipped adaptation of the Nicholas Hornby novel High Fidelity, Rob (the incomparable Zoe Kravitz) breaks down the seven rules for organizing the perfect mixtape. Yes, you read that right. Suspend your disbelief that New Yorkers in their late twenties are still consistently making mixtapes for each other (at least she does it on Spotify). Anyway, here are the rules — which will make the idea of creating your own mix actually seem fun:
Gotta be entertaining.
Needs to tell a story.
Don’t be too obvious, but [it] can’t be too obscure either.
Can’t double up on songs by the same artist, unless that’s your theme.
The most important track is #1. It’s gotta be familiar, but also unexpected. Most importantly, it’s gotta make you feel good.
Track 2, there needs to be an element of surprise. What you’re saying is, “keep listening. There might be more here than I thought.”
Before we get to rule 7, let’s start with whether or not the High Fidelity makes it through the first six. Yes and no. If we consider the opening episode, “Top Five Heartbreaks” our first track, High Fidelity pulls off a lofty goal: it hones in on what made the John Cusak-helmed rom-com drama compelling with a heavy-hearted, complicated protagonist struggling to understand their own culpability and faults in failed love. Kravitz’s Rob is every bit as charming, flawed, and frustratingly selfish as Cusak in the 2000 film.
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=midseason-tv-2020-34-shows-we-cant-wait-to-watch&captions=true”]
(Side note: some critics felt Kravitz’s glamorous presence made for a mismatch in casting and a distraction, but Rob is relatively financially stable, owns her own record shop, and has the most gorgeous, successful men and women of NYC throwing themselves at her feet, so her casting makes sense. What’s more distracting is how she affords her large Brooklyn apartment when Champion Records only seems to attract paying customers on Saturdays.)
In the first episode of the 10-part series, a fourth-wall breaking Rob is still reeling from a relationship that ended a year ago, when she attempts to go on a first date. Her suitor, Clyde (Jake Lacy), bores her at first until they sink into a charming flirtatious rhythm, bonding over his flimsy appreciation for the song “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and her overwhelming knowledge of the band and the making of the groundbreaking album, “Rumors,” which is not her favorite.
When that date ends in sex and he ditches in the morning after promising her french toast, Rob is disappointed but not surprised. “Of course it was the nice guy. It’s always the nice guy,” she laments. From there she takes us through her top five most memorable heartbreaks: Kevin Bannister, Simon Miller, Kat Monroe, Justin Kit, and most recently, Russell “Mac” McCormack. (Though Kat is a woman and Rob is sexually fluid, the chemistry is hardly there and the bulk of her storyline remains more heteronormative than the creators probably think it is.)
Episode 2, “Track 2” accomplishes rule number six wholeheartedly, gripping the viewer and creating something new out of old characters. Champion Records’ only employees — Simon (David H. Holmes), Rob’s gay ex-boyfriend and heartbreak #2, and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), Rob’s boisterous friend who seems to be all talk, little action when it comes to her own musical career — cement themselves as the emotional heart of the series and two of the most compelling reasons to watch. Their riffs on race, sexuality, and trauma as they pertain to the eclectic music that moves them helps modernize a series that otherwise could have felt trapped in the early aughts. It doesn’t hurt that they call Rob on multiple instances of bulls–t and act as the audience’s perspective on her actions.
From episode 2 on, the series builds momentum and delves further into these surprisingly authentic characters and each of Rob’s breakups (as well as some new relationships), while keeping the reason behind her breakup with Mac shrouded in mystery. In a later episode, she sits in the studio while her latest hookup, Liam (Thomas Doherty), a sexy, young musician, records a new song. She tells him the beat is fun, but the vocals sound earnest. “Get weird with it,” she encourages, and it works.
Likewise, High Fidelity is at its best when it gets weird with it, and flounders when it becomes too earnest. Episode 5 is the highlight, following Rob and Clyde on an outrageous not-date in the Upper West Side that feels notably rom-com-y and electric in a way that Hulu’s other recent movie reboot, Four Weddings and a Funeral, failed to capture. However, a decision Rob makes in the same episode that attempts to solidify her status as the hero of the story inadvertently undermines that swagger.
So, back to that final rule:
7. Closers are tough. It’s the last thing they’re gonna hear and the only thing they’re gonna remember, so you gotta bring your message home
Unfortunately, High Fidelity begins to waver once it hits its emotional peak late in the season with a chaotic, crescendoing party scene that rips apart Rob’s newfound confidence. From there, the series flounders in an attempt to draw out the story for another three or so episodes, and none of the character arcs reach a satisfying enough conclusion. The season finale comes after a supposedly earth-shaking revelation that simply doesn’t feel so meaningful, and the season ends awkwardly and abruptly, leaving much more to be desired.
But that doesn’t mean the whole thing is a bust. There are bursts of genius scattered throughout High Fidelity that bode well for a potential second season, and plenty of relationships worth exploring further. That’s not even mentioning the beautiful way music is utilized throughout the series to echo the characters’ ethos and emotions, effortlessly diving between artists like Minnie Ripperton, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Swamp Dogg, and, delightfully, PTAF’s “Boss Ass Bitch” after a particularly successful hookup.
High Fidelity is right, closers are tough, and while it struggles with hitting a solid finish, hopefully this isn’t the end.