It’s worth remembering Stephen Frears’ cult-classic High Fidelity was more than snobby record store nerds ranking their days away to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s seven-minute guitar solo in ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ The 2000 John Cusack film (based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name) is as specific to its time as it was for his character Rob’s obsessively, precise music playlist – and the theme that rang around it. High Fidelity was a film that promised the sounds of broken hearts, miserable people, and their most memorable breakups. It was a whiny (yes), drenched narrative that was riddled with attitude, rhythm and likability. On paper, a reboot of the film shouldn’t work. A race and gender-bent television series of a film that bore such heavy direct-to-camera addresses and scenes built on an insightful collage of the doubts and joy music had on a person shouldn’t work. But it does.
Hulu’s ten-episode long series revives a time-capsule that we never knew we needed. Among its soundtrack that Frears’ would undoubtedly be proud of, it’s ode to the original Championship Vinyl record store, and warm embrace of mixtapes, Hulu’s reimagining is a love letter to the original that marvellously finds its own story.
Zoë Kravitz plays Rob (Robyn), taking over the role from Cusack. Bound by the same name, profession (record store owner), and obsessive fixation on past relationships, the Hulu series takes a turn on the character – which all the more, makes the show’s premise a lot more interesting. Cusack’s character in the film holds an obnoxious obsession over music, a sense of self-importance and superiority that he showers over people who don’t hold the same knowledge as he does. Kravitz’s twist on the compulsive list maker is simpler than Cusack’s continuous scoffs – unlike him she is more than happy to spread her love for music to people who know less than her (at one point even allowing teenagers to borrow records from her record shop). Her personality is all the more welcoming and gracious than the playlists she shares out on Spotify. In retrospect, the ‘Dickies’ t-shirt, black sunglasses, and fantasy island “All Time Top Five Memorable Heartbreaks” list are the closest fundamentals they have to being the same.
With thirty-minute-long episodes, High Fidelity carefully streams an arc that makes Rob feel special before the formative age of hitting 30. Each episode reveals another layer of her character, some which reveal the bad, the good, and the ugly. However, there is never a point in the show where her character navigates towards a stage that feels unrealistic. Between the vintage t-shirts, Doc Martens, and the trauma she drowns with neat whiskey and cartons of cigarettes, the audience is experiencing the nature of a break-up and the self-annihilating core that plummets her to feel lower each day. Working in a ‘struggling’ record store, being impossibly cool, and having friends that venture the same thought-provoking intellectualism as herself (who work with her, by the way!) is enough for the audience to understand that problems do occur -– particularly heartbreaks. It’s important and nevertheless realistic, though Rob not having seen a single episode of The Sopranos certainly isn’t.
Simon (David H. Holmes), the painfully hip and shaggy-haired gay best friend, is surprisingly on her infamous list of heartbreaks, until he came out to her. Depicted a lot like his ex – turned best friend – his character is as important as the shirt he swears to wear on his first date, and is ultimately someone who doesn’t who thankfully doesn’t revert to the stereotypical ‘sidekick gay friend.’ In fact, he’s far from it, and we learn this when the series smartly diverts us from Rob’s point of view to his, opening the world of High Fidelity into a character that we soon learn is unconvinced he deserves any sign of love. Cherise (Da’Vine Joy), as well as Simon, is also a major, and positive, figure in the series. Stealing scenes with her loud and passionate presence, her character is, without a doubt, a brand of confidence that the show sorely needed. Spreading love with her extravagant jumpsuits and her “Monday Morning Playlists”, Cherise’s sarcasm and confidence shines brighter than her golden hoop earrings, even in her most heart-breaking moments.
As important as it that a woman is taking on the central character, particularly with a contemporary audience, it’s also worth noting the decision of capturing the self-betterment in a person’s emotional past. Not many shows nowadays provide a crucial sense of identification and compassion when it comes to the subject of love. So having High Fidelity, and its tribute to some of the best records that contributed the message of enduring devotion, is inspiring. As well as dealing with the world we live in now, it’s also about moving forward rather than looking into the past.
There are so many reasons to watch High Fidelity – the soundtrack, the vibrant Crown Heights setting, the lovable connections through music, and the cameo of Blondie dancing to her own song. But if there is ever a slight feeling that this show just isn’t for you (which I doubt), in the words of Rob herself -–“Keep listening, there might be more here than you thought.”
High Fidelity is now streaming on Hulu
By Keli Williams