It takes time, but the ‘High Fidelity’ remix eventually justifies its existence (TV review)


n the early going, “High Fidelity” (February, Hulu) so precisely re-creates several iconic scenes from the 2000 movie that it’s like watching a painful amateur stage production of a classic play. We might as well be rewatching the film or reading Nick Hornby’s 1995 book. But as the 10-episode Season 1 moves forward, it starts to repurpose the familiar scenes in new ways, and it ultimately justifies its existence.

I had never quite understood the Zoe Kravitz hype before this, but she’s ideally cast once you accept the idea of a female Rob Gordon (short for Robyn, in this case). I can’t relate to Rob; she’s aggressively self-centered, above and beyond the fact that she narrates her problems by looking into the camera now and then. She’s bad at listening to her two friends/employees, and she’s called an “asshole” more often than Will Smith’s character in “Hancock.”

The most effective callbacks to the movie are when the moments aren’t precisely re-created, but instead sneak up on you. When Robyn imagines beating up her ex’s new girlfriend, it happens outside a bar, rather than in the shop.

Also she smokes; ugh. (That said, it’s kind of brave to show a protagonist smoking in a 2020 show.)

On the other hand, Rob is aware that she’s self-centered, a bad listener and a jerk, and she’s working to improve. Even better, Kravitz – kind of grimy and stringy, but naturally pretty when she wants to be — looks like someone who owns and operates Championship Vinyl in 2020.

Produced by Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West, “High Fidelity” initially has a tougher time selling Rob’s two employees, Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Simon, a gay answer to the movie’s Dick, is convincing enough as a music geek, but he’s so low key that I admit I had to look up his name for this review.

Cherise’s genuineness is hampered when Randolph precisely mimics Jack Black’s Barry – that’s a head-to-head competition no actor can win. Cherise is the hardest of the three to reconcile in this purposely diverse remix – a gregarious black woman who is a huge nerd for all kinds of music.

I can see both sides of the argument for diversifying a property that was originally about three straight white dudes. My gut reaction is that it’s a false kind of diversity to cast black, gay and female characters in previously straight white male roles. Hornby made them straight white dudes because he knew these people in real life and they were always straight white dudes. Meanwhile, other storytellers are writing about female, black and gay characters based on real-life female, black and gay people.

However, by the end of the 10 episodes, Cherise in particular had grown into a real person in my eyes, simply because I had seen her selling records and loving all kinds of music over five hours of storytelling. Maybe 1 percent of people with this set of interests are gregarious black women, but Cherise’s existence doesn’t push “High Fidelity” into an alternate universe. And maybe black girls will see Cherise and realize it’s OK to have passions outside of what people expect from you; that’s a good thing.

The most effective callbacks to the movie are when the moments aren’t precisely re-created, but instead sneak up on you. When Robyn imagines beating up her ex’s new girlfriend, it happens outside a bar, rather than in the shop. It’s my favorite sequence in the movie, and I literally laughed out loud at the TV version too. The “9 percent chance” scene involves someone other than Rob’s ex, and this surprised me in a good way.

Set in New York and nicely showing off the streetscapes and buildings, “High Fidelity” becomes a basic TV love triangle toward the end of the season, the kind that will inspire people to join Team Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) or Team Clyde (Jake Lacy). Mac is a confident and decent guy with a charming British accent and Clyde is your all-around Good Guy who enjoys wall-climbing and volunteering with kids without bragging about it.

Clyde is the only straight white guy in the main cast, and I hope that’s not the reason I most related to him, but it must be said that Lacy acts out one of the most honest moments of the season – and one that’s not in the movie. In episode 7, after learning from someone else that Rob was previously engaged to Mac, Clyde tells Rob he thinks about her all the time but he has decided he’s done with this type of “chaos” in his life.

Kravitz is great at showing Rob’s reactions in this scene. We know she knows where Clyde is coming from, but we also know she has never stopped loving Mac – who she drove away out of fear of commitment.

Even when the relationships begin to steal time from the top-five lists and other shop talk, the show still has that “High Fidelity” vibe, with music peppered in without being obnoxious.

This is different from early forced scenes such as Cherise refusing to sell Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” to a customer because of the controversies surrounding Jackson. This comes off as awfully PC, and outdated. Plus, Jackson is a safe performer to hold up as controversial, since he is deceased. I would think vinyl nerds would want someone to own “Off the Wall” simply because it’s a good record.

Later episodes maintain the quality vintage needle drops; the music licensing cost for “High Fidelity” must be astronomical. If the show is successful enough to get a Season 2, it needs to find a more consistent balance between the relationship stories and the music chatter. But at least it has put the movie callbacks behind it and is becoming its own thing (which is better than being a copycat, even if the new thing isn’t strictly better) at the same time Rob is becoming a better person.

Season 1: