Creator – Jack Thorne
Cast – Andre Holland, Joanna Kulig, Leïla Bekhti, Tahar Rahim, Amandla Stenberg
The Eddy is ‘une serie originale Netflix’ — a crime drama masquerading as a musical that seemingly conjured a creator mere days ago. As many journalists have noted, Netflix refused to identify one person as being solely responsible for the show before its release — none of the promotional material carried a ‘created by’ credit. But then, in a plot twist to rival one that takes place in episode one of the show, it was discovered that the final version of the eight-part miniseries singles out Jack Thorne as the man behind the operation.
Thorne, who has worked across several mediums — he wrote Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for Broadway, and was hired by Disney to polish Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — goes back to his roots for The Eddy. The series is tonally and structurally similar to one of Thorne’s earliest gigs, the British teen drama Skins.
Watch The Eddy trailer here
Like that show, The Eddy switches protagonists with each episode — while episode one is told through the eyes of a washed-up American jazz pianist named Elliot (Andre Holland), episode two focuses on his estranged teenage daughter Julie (a scene-stealing Amandla Stenberg), who arrives at his doorstep unannounced.
And like Skins, The Eddy also dances between many genres, but rarely is it as graceful. What begins as a whimsical, behind-the-scenes look inside a Paris jazz club turns (rather abruptly) into a gritty urban crime story midway through episode one. And it never looks back. As one YouTube commentor hilariously wrote under the trailer, “Half of this trailer is about music and the other half is like Jason Bourne.”
It’s a jarring tonal shift, one that director Damien Chazelle only partially navigates. Fans of the filmmaker, who’d probably have been excited about the notion of Chazelle revisiting his love for jazz (in Paris, no less), might be slightly taken aback by the boulevards down which The Eddy strolls. I certainly was. But I don’t know what transpired behind-the-scenes; I can only make an informed guess. The lack of an official creator until a week ago is certainly a good clue. This time, however, by having a black protagonist, Chazelle can’t be criticised for ignoring the socio-political history of jazz music.
Considering what the world is currently going through, it’s sort of fitting that The Eddy resembles a nightmarish version of the future La La Land’s Sebastian imagined for himself. Elliot is the quintessential Chazellian hero, just a little older. There’s a sense that he, like Sebastian, compromised on his personal relationships in his determination to realise his dreams. But owning a jazz club in Paris isn’t easy, or particularly romantic.
Elliot is drowning in debt, lonely, and struggling to keep his business afloat as the crowd dwindles with every passing evening. Like so many legendary African American jazz musicians before him — Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong, to name just a couple — Elliot perhaps sought refuge in Paris when the pressures of life in the US became too unbearable. Little did he know that he’d soon be embroiled in a murder plot.
Andre Holland and Joanna Kulig in a still from The Eddy.
What hurts The Eddy is the disconnect between its first two episodes, directed by Chazelle, and the following six, directed by Houda Benyamina, Laila Marrakchi and Alan Poul. For one, the distinct visual style of the openers — Chazelle and cinematographer Eric Gautier chose to shoot on grainy film stock — is all but discarded as the story progresses. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision, since the tone and the plot are simultaneously and rapidly evolving as well. Or perhaps they couldn’t afford more 16mm film. Who knows?
The show’s uneven pacing reminded my of a Bollywood musical, in which magical song sequences are known to disrupt perfectly fine drama. But The Eddy’s tonal creases are routinely smoothed down by the consistently well-written characters, and the performances of its cast. Andre Holland is excellent at communicating Elliot’s inner turmoil, erupting only on the rarest of occasions, despite near-constant pressure. The terrific French actor Tahar Rahim and his real-life wife, Leila Bekhti, play a married couple in the show, and certain scenes that explore the evolution of their relationship feel uncomfortably honest.
Like Elliot and Julie, each central character is given their due, with Thorne’s story rewarding more patient viewers with deliberately paced revelations. He finds glimmers of old-fashioned Parisian romance even in this gritty, modern version of the city that the show portrays like the melting pot of races and cultures that it is.
This isn’t the City of Love as seen through Woody Allen’s rose-tinted glasses, where Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway would discuss their adventures over an aperitif. This Paris is a ghettoised, crime-ridden cesspool. But its inhabitants still have music in their souls. It is their only escape. And that, in itself, is a romantic idea.