In significant ways, Damien Chazelle’s Netflix miniseries “The Eddy” is miles away from Chazelle’s hit movie “La La Land.” Both do involve music, trying to make it in entertainment, the authenticity of jazz, and sticking to your guns artistically. But while “La La Land” is precisely shot and carefully costumed and choreographed, “The Eddy” is an exercise in relaxed, verite stylings. While “La La Land” is about the lure of Hollywood and its pretty surfaces, “The Eddy” is about the dirty side streets of the Paris suburbs and a struggling jazz club there called The Eddy, where the action is set.
In other words, “The Eddy” may come as a surprise to you, if you’re expecting this music-driven eight-parter to look or behave anything like “La La Land.” Actually, it may come as a surprise to you if you’re expecting it to look or behave anything like most series on TV. The handheld aesthetic defines the show, as the shaky camera peers into the actors’ faces unhurriedly, often in the shadows of the club. There’s a lot of jazz in the mix, both in the performance scenes and in the background of the scenes with dialogue, and it’s arranged like the cinematography — loosely. The story line, too, is unmoored, meandering here and there without clear signposts. In a way, “The Eddy” is akin to David Simon’s Altman-like ode to New Orleans and its music, “Treme,” but with even less of an organizing principle narrative-wise.
In short, the atmosphere of the series is transporting, and the toggling between French (with subtitles) and English, and images of the less-than-glamorous parts of France we don’t generally see on scripted TV, add nicely to the exoticism. But the story line imposed onto the setting is awfully stale, as familiar as the ambience is not. The show revolves around Andre Holland’s dour American expat Elliot, who is trying to get The Eddy off the ground. He’s emotionally and financially stressed as he and his business partner, Farid (Tahar Rahim), worry about filling the house. Elliot is also a musician, and as the house musicians warm up every day, led by the singer Maja (Joanna Kulig), he critiques them according to his high standards, struggling to get them to improve. Music is his soulmate, as it is for most of the characters, and he answers to her first. Meanwhile, Farid handles the money, a plotline that involves a few unpleasant mobsters and unpaid loans.
Into the chaos comes Elliot’s American daughter, Julie (Amandla Stenberg), who is stubborn and rebellious. She has left her mother and stepfather for Elliot, but her relationship with him is fraught with resentment and unresolved tragedy. They go through the usual dad-vs.-daughter struggles, as she runs off without his permission to make him worry, but we suspect that, despite all the pain, they are working all their deep-seated problems out. It’s been done before, and better, as has the mobster stuff. Stenberg is fine, but she is limited by what the script expects from her character.
Same with Holland. I’m a fan of his work, in “Moonlight” and, in particular, in “The Knick,” but he doesn’t get to do enough here except project his anxiety onto the people around him. He’s a bummer, except that, like the show itself, he manages to find moments of beauty and grace when he’s making music.
Starring: Andre Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim, Melissa George
On: Netflix. Available on Friday