Some shows choose to grab you by the throat, immediately engage you. And then other shows aim to ease you in, let you make yourself at home. The Eddy, the Damien Chazelle-produced jazz-infused drama now streaming on Netflix, is very much the latter — much like the titular Parisian club at the center of the series, it opens the door, lets you find a seat, and decide for yourself whether or not you want to stick around.
Whether or not you do want to stick around depends entirely on your tolerance for French New Wave-styled handheld cinematography, a polyglot approach to language where dialogue veers from French to English to Arabic with no warning, and of course, the most important thing in the world: jazz music.
It’s easy to poke fun at just how much jazz is infused into this show, based on Chazelle’s previous work — the performance numbers are numerous, and often uninterrupted by pesky things like plot. But unlike La La Land, where Ryan Gosling‘s obsession with the music genre leads to him lecturing everyone about what jazz really is, The Eddy lets the music proselytize for itself.
One reason for that is the central character is, when we meet him, taking a bit of a break from performing. Elliot (Andre Holland) co-owns The Eddy, but while he was at one point a renowned jazz pianist, he now lets the house band, fronted by his occasional girlfriend Maja (Joanna Kulig), play for the crowds. He’s got plenty to keep him busy, though, thanks to his business partner Farid (Tahar Rahim) making some unsavory deals and the arrival of his troubled teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg).
That’s where things begin, anyway. Theoretically, each episode of The Eddy spotlights an individual character connected to the club, beginning of course with Elliot, and with each new perspective, the world of the show grows a little deeper and richer. In fact, where the show most succeeds is in the way life just unfolds before the viewer, in all its nuances: The episode that sticks with me the most right now is Episode 4, “Jude,” which follows the band’s bassist (Damian Nueva) over the course of a day that includes busking on the street, getting his methadone treatment, and encountering an ex who’s about to get married. Written by Jack Thorne, Rachel Del-Lahay, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Houda Benyamina, it’s a detail-rich look at a character who’d been hovering at the edges of the frame up until this point.
Meanwhile, the overarching narrative, involving the Parisian underworld of drugs and guns and how it infiltrates the supposed peaceful world of the club, gives the series some degree of stakes but honestly, more often than not, feels like a distraction. Without it, The Eddy might lack momentum, but it would also feel truer to what the series really seems like it wants to be. (It would also mean that episodes would be shorter — with multiple installments clocking in at an hour or more, the pacing is languid at its best and a slog at its worst.)
What is here, though, is held together by the remarkable strength of the international cast, all taking their cues from Holland. The thing about the Moonlight star as an actor is the complete ease with which he holds the camera’s attention — even when he’s just watching someone else perform, you can truly feel his connection to the moment. Even when acting in multiple languages (this was Holland’s first time acting on screen in French), there’s never a sense of seeing an actor on screen. He’s just alive and real in a way few people ever can manage.
Stenberg is often luminous as Julie, though at times her character falls prey to the sort of bratty teen daughter tropes that have plagued so many prestige dramas, from Dana on Homeland to Whitney of The Affair. At one point in the second episode, she literally runs through the streets screaming “Ou est le coke!” (“where is the cocaine?”) — it’s awfully hard to take the character seriously after that, though as Julie grows more comfortable in her new city, she moves beyond the cliches. It’s a somewhat unconventional father-daughter relationship, but her bond with Elliot is one of the show’s key underpinnings.
The Eddy is not a period piece, but it does invoke a fascinating bit of history: After World War I ended in 1919, African-American soldiers serving in Europe discovered that Paris was a welcoming city free of the racism they had experienced in the United States — so, they decided not to leave. Figures like Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, and Django Reinhardt made Paris their home, bringing with them their culture and traditions, creating an entire cultural moment with a legacy that has lasted until today.
It’s a scene with a very targeted appeal, something which the show reflects. If The Eddy is the sort of show you want to curl up with, maybe with a glass of scotch and the lingering memories of what it was once like, to go out into the world for a low-key night of live music, you’ll know pretty quickly. And if not, no worries — the Back to Browse button is right there, waiting for you, and no one on Too Hot to Handle will be performing any jazz.
The Eddy Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.