After a promising but uneven first season, Mozart in the Jungle returns for another year of music, comedy, beautiful moments, and wildly unpredictable plotting. This clever look at the eccentric musicians of the New York Symphony continues to follow young oboist Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), whose career climb is colored — and sometimes threatened — by her flirty, complicated relationship with flamboyant conductor Rodrigo (a sensational Gael García Bernal). Raising the stakes this time is a looming labor dispute between the musicians and the symphony’s board, whose new villain, corporate scumbag Edward Biben (Brennan Brown), wants to put his own ruthless stamp on the group — and possibly destroy it in the process.
In the past I’ve criticized Mozart in the Jungle for its aimless, flailing lack of structure. But as the series leans into this scattered approach in its second year, I’ve come to not only appreciate it, but to revel in it. There is nothing formulaic about this show, which makes every episode surprising: the tone is all over the map, bouncing from sitcom shenanigans to romcom tenderness, from wild, international escapades and improvisational stream-of-consciousness. The only real constant is the will-they, won’t-they vibe of Hailey and Rodrigo’s relationship, which may be the least interesting aspect of the show. The side plots, though, are delightfully unexpected.
Through it all, Bernal is the life energy of the series, a delightful rallying figure. This year, there’s even better material for key supporting characters like the luminous Bernadette Peters, and the always-game Malcolm McDowell. But in the end, the music is always the star…the show improves its deployment of music to interface more powerfully with the emotions of its likeable characters, leading to the occasional, unexpected moment of sheer joy in creative expression. People immune to classical music probably won’t get it, but if you have even a cursory appreciation for it, this is a terrifically entertaining series that occasionally pierces straight to the heart.