Hulu’s High Fidelity: A Short-Lived Breath of Fresh Air
Zoe Kravitz posted a sweet goodbye message to the cast and crew of the recently cancelled High Fidelity on her Instagram. It’s illustrious single-season-run came to a swift end, much to the surprise of viewers:
Fans and friends alike commented and showed support for the freshman comedy, based on the 2000 film starring and co-written by John Cusack in a gender-swapped version with Kravitz’s more sensitive iteration as protagonist Rob. The sparks came when fellow actor Tessa Thompson commented with dismay and well wishes at the cancellation and Kravitz replied with tinder to an anger that so many entertainment journalists and fans were thinking:
At least hulu has a ton of other shows starring women of color we can watch. oh wait.
Zoe Kravitz as Rob was the immaculate choice to bring High Fidelity into the 2020s. The often loathed, but entertaining white, male version from the 2000 film was never going to be able to survive in a space that has drastically changed, and one that finally embraces a female perspective. What made High Fidelity so watchable, and so much more nuanced than the original film was how dimensional its characters were written and portrayed on screen. It gave the show a dynamic so different from its film predecessor, and the original 1995 novel by Nick Hornby, that some who were fans of the original were perhaps unsure of this newer, sexually fluid, more feminist version. While I do not want to spend this piece litigating the pros and cons between the film and the television show, nor do I want to delve too much into the reasons it was cancelled, what I’d like to do is assuage this shortened ending of a show, and discuss it’s beautifully humanist, short-lived season. A survey the best episodes below highlight what worked well, which characters were destined for greatness, and how the universe of this fictional Crown Heights, Brooklyn record store and its neighbors was gloriously “of-the-moment”, but self-aware enough to hide any flaws.
Episode 1 — Top Five Heartbreaks
While Cusack’s Rob in the 2000 film also took on the role as narrator of his story, Kravitz does the same in a scaled-down single-episode recount of her past relationships. Much like Fleabag, High Fidelity succeeds with using the technique of breaking the fourth wall to personally connect with viewer, and Rob is the perfectly imperfect narrator. She goes on a first date with utter square Clyde after reeling from the end of her long-term relationship with Mac, her number one top heartbreak. Our introduction to Clyde, perennial nice-guy actor Jake Lacey, is a bit stilted, but picks up swiftly once both Rob and Clyde have a few adult beverages and loosen up. The stage is set beautifully, with character introductions that organically portray the colorful ensemble of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Zoe Kravitz, and David H. Holmes in their place of work, Championship Vinyl. The saturated street lights, eclectic album covers, and bombastic, yet loveable personalities of the supporting cast, make for complementary motif of Brooklyn life, with its easy, palatial center on Rob.
Episode 5 — The Collector
This was one of the best narratives of the entire season. I love when they take the cast on an adventure outside their natural habitat. Be it Mad Men’s Don Draper in Palm Springs or any destination that the Real Housewives embark to, time spent away from the usual settings often reveal greater truths about our characters. Rob and Clyde are undefined, but he has a car, and she needs him to check-out a wealthy collector’s vinyl on the Upper West Side. Rob is conflicted about the misogyny of the owner, and deals with this conflict in one of the most perfectly scripted scenes of the series that elaborates the plight of tasteful intelligent women everywhere: a mansplainer who will not acknowledge Rob’s acumen. We are taken through an argument over the release year of a Wings album: Rob insists on the year, but Tim, the record owner, continually talks over her and only engages with Clyde. He barely looks over at Rob, actively dismissing her attempts to enter the conversation, and when she finally provides all the evidence of her prowess, she is labeled a “fire cracker.” I will go as far to say that any and all women have experienced a moment like this. Jake steals an album for Rob from the collection, a warm fuzzy postcard from their foray uptown.
Episode 7 — Me Time
Alas — we all eventually have to cope with becoming adults, and the stakes of having a baby are enough to solidify the arrested development message that both the film, and the series tackle. Rob’s brother, Cameron, is about to have his first child with his wife, and he very much takes lead in this episode. A serendipitous meeting with his former colleague who is gallivanting across the world on entertainment gigs sparks jealousy, and a mourning for his younger days. While the episode peaks with a dark climax of Cameron’s drunken truth-telling spoiling appearances, it ends with a concise, therapeutic ending. The episode features some gorgeous golden hour lighting in addition to the darkened, saturated lighting of the local spot The Allied. The metaphors about life’s transitions are sprinkled through in every interaction. It’s a pastiche of the little moments, from the sardonic, farce introduction to Mac’s fiancé, the sweetness and sadness of Rob and Clyde’s entanglement outside the bar, and her brother’s eventual descent into an abyss he doesn’t necessarily climb out of by the end that detail the richness of life’s highs and lows.
Episode 10 — Wild, Wild Life (Unfortunately our series finale)
Oh what could have been. Wild, Wild Life gave me tears and excitement over what’s to come. It openings with a past scene of romantic bliss Rob often references between her and former fiancé, Mac. The two of them lying on a blanket in the park, making a promise to remind each other to always find a way back to this peaceful, loving state of mind. The episode is framed as an aftermath to Rob disclosing her infidelity, and the fallout this brings to her relationships. Her niece finally arrives, and the birth is framed as a new chapter for everyone — the ultimate sign of life beyond Rob’s inner-struggles, and progress for our protagonist who has spent the season self-reflecting and drowning in guilt. While Rob’s beratement is heavy-handed at times throughout the episode for her past indiscretions, the contentment and inner-peace achieved at the resolution satisfies. The ending “percent chance” conversation with Clyde is pragmatically sweet, but not too saccharine. Alas, this is it, and we’re left to wonder what became of this circle of friends.
It’s been months since news of High Fidelity’s cancellation came out, and unfortunately there has not been a streaming service or network that claimed the show. Rumors from various entertainment outlets is that Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s character Cherise would have taken center stage, but alas this will be left up to speculation. While the first season of HF was highly acclaimed and supported by fans, it’s tough to say why the decision was made to cancel it. Kravitz is starring as Catwoman in the upcoming Batman film and stated that scheduling had no impact in Hulu’s decision. What lasts beyond the initial disappointment, is the longing for a character-driven, community vibe that was so artfully executed by showrunners Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West. The amount of content on streaming platforms is excessive, but there are so few that commit to a type of realism, and empathy towards the human condition in a way that High Fidelity did. The 2020 television series had our leading character enduring heartache and unhappiness, but it also allowed the audience to connect and empathize in a way that we couldn’t with John Cusack. It allowed Rob to show more of her humanity, and feature the character as a friend and community member, rather than a loner.
Queue it up for your quarantine playlist of shows to stream. The first and only season is multi-faceted, and clearly beloved. It’s a shame that’s all there is, but nonetheless it’s a worthy, meaningful watch.
“Making a playlist is a delicate art. It’s like writing a love letter, but in a better way.”