This High Fidelity review contains no spoilers.
High Fidelity is a gorgeous piece of fourth wall-breaking piece of millennial existential angst. Expanding on the film starring John Cusack, Hulu’s Zoe Kravitz vehicle feels like it has more to say about growing up, owning our mistakes, and learning how to show up for those we love. Modern social and sexual politics are paired with the feeling of a show from another era, in the way that so many Tarantino films so badly try to capture. Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It springs to mind. It’s a show that knows all white guys love Weezer and understands still not having had time to watch a television show whose finale aired more than a decade ago. It’s overflowing with great music without being in a hurry to put limits on what counts, a show that’s more invested in the friendships it portrays than in taking itself too seriously.
Many elements familiar to viewers of the 2000 John Cusack film remain: the heartsick owner of Championship Vinyl with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall revisits past relationships – the top 5 heartbreaks – to understand where they went wrong. In this case, she wants to understand her most recent gut-wrenching breakup with her fiancé, Mac. Even some uncanny elements remain unchanged, like the mother of the first paramour claiming their kid married their first and only sweetheart, and our protagonist inexplicably taking that information to mean nothing is their fault. Some minor swapping occurs, like Debbie Harry’s excellent jumpsuited cameo replacing Bruce Springsteen’s (sadly, sans jumpsuit). Of course Rob is short for Robin now, played by Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Liza Bonet, who played nightclub singer Marie DeSalle, a romantic interest for Rob in the Cusack film.
So much is thoughtful and simply lovely to experience about this show, from the soundtrack (obviously – it had to be on point and Questlove is an executive producer) to the long shots over the end credits to the opening title shot of a “High Fidelity” sticker slapped onto a stop sign, a mailbox, and pretty much anywhere else around their neighborhood. The show has a real sense of place; we see characters walk around their neighborhood and return to the same bar, apartments, record store and coffee shops.
This version feels more expansive and accessible, with the Championship gang no less music-obsessed or encyclopedic in their knowledge, but far less prone to gatekeeping. They’re more representative of the entirety of music fandom, more pleasantly eccentric. Nor do they stay in the lanes expected of them by either audience stereotype or other characters in the show, demonstrating that true passion makes for curious connoisseurs rather than spiteful bouncers. In Rob herself and especially an episode where she sizes up a wealthy male record collector, we see the frustrating reality for a young black woman in the music industry, repeatedly spoken over by a loud old man with his facts all wrong.
At one point, Rob’s ex/record store employee Simon even voices the ethos that characterized the 2000 movie aloud, the idea that the things that you like are as important – or more – than what you’re like. It’s a sign of the times that the line reads like a groaner, but a sign of the strength of the script that it’s far from the last word on Simon, a character who continually reveals depth throughout the season. Powered by the main trio of Simon, Cherise, and Rob, Championship Vinyl is so full of life. It’s the kind of place where Lauryn Hill plays one minute and “Come on Eileen” the next – though they deny us the climax. Twice.
The casting of Jake Lacey is spot-on for the kind of man High Fidelity needs romantic lead Clyde to be – painfully wholesome, entirely charming, yet still capable of making knees buckle. The entire enterprise all rides on Zoe Kravitz’s back, though, and it’s hard to overstate how wonderful she is here. Her comedic timing, her romantic chemistry with just about everyone in the cast, her inscrutable indecision every time she flees when someone forces her to confront real human emotion. She even manages to make it seem like her character is less selfish than she really is, at least for a little while, something she accomplishes with a mix of sheer charisma and outright hotness.
In only ten episodes, High Fidelity still manages to break its own form for two of its best episodes. One, which is almost entirely away from the record store, has the feel of a bottle episode because Championship Vinyl, Cherise and Simon are so central to the vibe of the show that getting away from all that with just two of the main characters (and knockout guest star Parker Posey) gives that same wonderful bottle effect. The other comes in the form of another character taking over narration and fourth wall-breaking duties. Aside from a peek inside another character’s mind, it completely recontextualizes everything we know about Rob and her relationship to the narrator up until that point, in a surprisingly bold move.
While Cusack’s High Fidelity is mostly about what it means for a restless man to treat a good woman poorly until one day he decided to stop being such a jerk (and for some reason she’s still there waiting for him?), with Kravitz’s Rob, High Fidelity has a lot more nuance. It still hits the notes about always having one foot out the door, but it also makes a point about how many of Rob’s exes left her for white women, and the fact that it can be scary to give ourselves a real shot at happiness. Perhaps most importantly of all, Hulu’s High Fidelity holds Rob accountable for being self-centered.
The ending feels rushed and a bit unsatisfying, like creators Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West know they have us in the bag for a second season already. The show wants to make bold statements and often tries, like when it reveals Robs policy not to sell Michael Jackson records. Unfortunately, the High Fidelity DNA is intact, and the script still pulls punches when it comes to bad men, whether that means having Rob let a jerk off the hook or the show itself coping out on the “separating the art from the artist” conversation it chose to engage in, by throwing it to commercial and playing David Bowie of all things.
If High Fidelity has a thesis, it’s that it’s scary to give yourself a short at real happiness – so scary that it’s often easier to sabotage yourself and keep making whatever crap choice you’ve always made. The show takes a while to get there, but it’s a wonderful journey to take, like walking your old block while listening to a great new mix. Everything might feel familiar, but with new storytellers in your ears, the experience brings out something richer and unexpected.
All episodes of High Fidelity are available on Hulu now.