Zoe Kravitz in Hulu’s new series “High Fidelity” was everything I was looking for when I tuned in one Saturday night to watch all 10 episodes at once. The series takes the 1995 Nick Hornby novel out of its original setting in London, and leaves the Chicago of 2000 film version behind, to restage the story in Brooklyn, New York. Kravitz plays the narrator, who became John Cusack’s character in the movie, a laconic record shop owner a year into the aftermath of a bad breakup.
For a fan who is skeptical of a remake when the original is already so good, “High Fidelity” offers just enough of the unexpected while retaining the great licks of the original. Hulu’s new series is like a cover song that invokes the emotional reality of the original while making the track all its own. Kravitz captures much of Cusack’s superior, restrained intensity when she turns to the camera with a deadpan stare that reflects the futility of life and love in these absurdist 21st-century times and reveals the story of her five greatest breakups.
The Female Lead Switch Works
There are some big changes. That the show takes place in Brooklyn, not Chicago, is an easy switch. But the main one is that the lead had been male, and is now female.
The sex swap doesn’t always work. Often it is an annoying attempt to graft women onto men’s stories just so women can also play the lead. In many of these cases it would make more sense to craft a new story with a woman character at the center of the narrative than to remake an existing story. But in “High Fidelity,” where both male and female viewers saw themselves reflected in the lead, this switch is not out of place.
Hornby was good with the change. In an interview with The New York Post at the local screening, Hornby said, “I thought it was really cool, especially when I found out who the woman was going to be. I never thought it was about guys particularly. I thought it was about music and relationships.”
The adjustment to a female lead works in several different ways. The story is the same. A record shop owner is stuck in a rut after a bad breakup with a guy she wishes she was still with. She’s a music snob with exceedingly good taste. Her closest friends are her two employees, Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).
She can’t figure out how to deal with her life, her expectations and her losses. These are universal feelings, and Rob (Kravitz), short for Robin, expresses them and handles them in a relatable, endearing way.
Kravitz’s Rob deals with her breakup along the same script as Cusack’s Rob. She makes a perfect playlist, spreading out all the vinyl from her spectacular record collection to do it. She drinks whiskey neat, picks back up the smoking habit she kicked, tracks back through her exes, indulges in a few unfulfilling romantic encounters.
Debbie Harry makes a cameo in episode three, dancing around Rob’s record-strewn apartment wearing flip-flops and drinking wine. “Break the pattern of heartbreak and free yourself,” Harry encourages.
People Who Can’t Learn How to Love
The crux of this show is about relationships, how hard they are, and how so many people out there in the cities don’t know what they’re doing, what they want, or how to fall in love and be loved back. Rob is definitely one of these people, and what makes it harder is that she thinks that “New York’s full of people who make you feel like you’re not enough.” She’s not wrong. Kravitz presents a 21st-century female character that fans can relate to.
She’s not empowered like the slew of online think pieces tell women to be, and despite her attempt to justify single life, she’s not in love with it. She drags people into her irregular, chaotic orbit because she wants the company, not because she wants them specifically. Rob is so focused on her own needs and desires that she doesn’t notice how selfish that is.
Rob is smart, interesting, attractive, and independent, and she can’t stop thinking about what’s wrong with herself long enough to realize she’s not that bad. It’s Rob’s self-defined “fake boyfriend,” Clyde, who sums up her whole deal. At a party where Rob has an unintentional reunion with her ex and his new fiancé, Clyde puts it all on the line.
“This is f-cking chaos,” Clyde says. “This isn’t on you, but I’ve worked so hard to cut that sh-t out of my life. Like to cut this f-cking chaos out, y’know? And you’re f-cking messy. I think about you all the time, Rob. I don’t really know what to do with it. I just want you to know like I would do this. I would do this, with you, if you wanted to do it. But I don’t want to do this thing where I’m like your fake boyfriend. I don’t wanna be your best fake boyfriend. So I guess I’m just asking, like is this a thing?”
He’s the guy Rob should fall in love with, but doesn’t. She’s that friend who always goes for the wrong guy.
As Expected, a Great Soundtrack
The soundtrack is pitch perfect, as it would have to be for a series about a music snob with incredible and far-reaching taste. Episode one treats us to a record store montage backed by Dexy and the Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.” The series features Satan’s Rats, Otis Brown, Fleetwood Mac, Radio Stars, Nick Drake, Bowie, Outkast, Prince, Tribe, Beasties, and a bunch of stuff I’m gonna look up and put on a new playlist.
The music supervisors from Aperture Music really nailed it with a selection of old stuff, new stuff, beloved indie classics, eclectic stuff viewers will seek out, and those perfect songs viewers will all know the words to that make them embrace the best traits of their long lost aspirational youth.
There’s a truly beautiful moment in episode seven when the doofy neighborhood punk rock kids who had previously been caught stealing records catch sight of Cherise’s handwritten flyer looking for a band to front. They ask, “Would you want to jam with us some time? Our singer just got accepted to Sarah Lawrence.” In short, it’s pitch perfect.
What a Season Two Would Need
Films and TV shows that riff on books are often pretty strong until they run out of source material. If “High Fidelity” goes to a season two, the test of the writing team will be what they can conjure for Rob and her friends without the Hornby narrative to drive it along.
Best will be if they lean on Holmes and the really engaging Randolph to develop storylines that bring us deeper into their lives and pursuits. In the role of the confident, slacker music elitist that was Jack Black’s in the film, Randolph brings great energy. The creators would do well to develop her character.
“I’ve just been thinking about life and it’s so f-cking intense, man,” Rob tells the camera on her birthday. “It’s like, at what point do you stop looking forward and start looking backwards… At what point did young Elvis become old Elvis?”
Watching the series alone one Saturday night, it gave me the thing I look for in good TV, but rarely find. “High Fidelity” asks the essential questions about love, life, and what we’re even doing, while emitting a vibe that tells viewers, “Your music collection is good, your friends aren’t that bad, and even if you don’t have any of the answers, it’s okay, because no one else does, either.”