Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Lala Land) brings his love of jazz to Netflix in the form of The Eddy, an eight-part series about a modern-day Parisian band. Chazelle fixes all the issues jazz-aficionados had with La La Land by portraying the personal and professional struggles of a small band of musicians and the show’s eponymous club.
The series jumps straight into the action, in the middle of one of the band’s shows at The Eddy. We see the club in all its scruffy, rustic glory outside of the shiny tourist destinations of contemporary Paris. From the opening scene, audiences are introduced to the show’s signature long handheld following shots (through 16mm cinematography by Eric Gautier), that doesn’t want the pretty fantasy of Ryan Gosling’s club in La La Land. The Eddy aims to show audiences a different side to the picture-postcard Paris. The show mainly spends its time in the city where North African immigrants are pushed to the wrong side of the Petite Ceinture tracks. The half-French director spent a significant part of childhood here; he knows the textures and the residence, he knows the graffiti and the attitudes. The show may be named after a dive club, but the real star is the city itself.
The Eddy wastes no time on slowly unravelling the backstory of these characters. The raffish co-owners Farid (Tahar Rahim) and the cautious Elliot (André Holland) slip between English and French as the house band plays. Elliot is worried about the size of the venue, the quality of the band and the state of their finances. Little does he know how much trouble the venue is in.
English screenwriter Jack Thorne (who adapted Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the stage and co-wrote This is England for the small screen with Shane Meadows) threads the handful of people brought together by music, mixing their personal problems with live music performances. Jazz fans fear not, there is a lot of music in The Eddy, from rehearsals to jam sessions, concerts and spontaneous scenes with Elliot sat at his piano. For those not keen on the genre, there is a lot to be charmed with. It’s hard not to be won over by the enthusiasm these people have for the music, even if you don’t personally share it.
Chazelle is merely the band leader to a quartet of directors, although his DNA is over every episode. The series co-creator Alan Poul (Tales of the City) takes over with Houda Benyamina (Divines) and Laïla Marrakchi (Rock the Casbah) directing additional episodes. The scenes are often drawn out and play out naturally, without edits and with long tracking shots. The dialogue cuts in between French and English, with the occasional Arabic and Russian. It’s refreshingly natural to have a mixed-nationality cast speak in their own dialect, rather than speak accented English out of context.
Moroccan-born Elliott lives and works alongside a number of French-Algerian characters, including Farid’s wife Amira (Leïla Bekhti). Episode three highlights the contrast between the traditions of French musicians and those of their Muslim origins. Despite being born in Paris, the Muslim characters are treated as outsiders, even more so than the English-speakers or the black characters. But this subject is skimmed over a little too much.
The Eddy’s narrative is reverse-engineered from a raft of fantastic songs composed by “Jagged Little Pill” producer Glen Ballard, delivered by real musicians. At times the episode pacing feels a little laboured, too much time spent on the musical scenes. The rehearsals where the same intro is played again and again in different keys become a little tiresome. The scenes where the actions are inter-cut with music, allowing the sound to become another character, are much more effective.
Each episode is dedicated to a character and their corner of the action, although it all leads back to Elliot. He is a New Yorker who left his wife and kids to co-manage the club. Elliot is too focused on being stressed about the band to notice Fahid’s risky financial arrangements. Elliot’s daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) arrives with a clarinet and teenage angst. She is soon enrolled in an international school but decides to skip class in an act of teenage rampage with French-Algerian rapper (Adil Dehbi). If anyone’s narrative wears a little thin, it is Julie’s, whose screaming tantrums and reckless behaviour make her hard to sympathise with. Everyone else’s attitudes and reactions make more sense as the show weaves in and out of their personal lives, allowing audiences to slowly understand their behaviour.
Episode one is very music-centric and the pacing suffers for it, episode two switches into a more gritty drama instead. For some, they will be disappointed that is has moved away from the music and into a more conventional story. The story drifts further and further away from the music, jumping into a police plot, gangster drama and romantic comedy. Like jazz melodies, The Eddy weaves and tangents through the lives of the Paris habitants, sometimes predictably but more often than not with gut wrenching twists.
The Eddy treads a fine line of soap opera but is ultimately charming enough to get away with it. It deals with all the big problems and all the small ones, balancing the importance of love, family and money with the character’s desire to play music. Whilst the opening episode may make it seem like another musical drama about struggling musicians weighed down by their own burden, it soon takes a gripping twist through genres.
The Eddy will be available to stream on Netflix from May 8th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy