A promising first draft. Of a remake. Of an adaptation.
The point of High Fidelity, the series, is unclear.
The novelty of the original film, and the book by Nick Hornby from which it was adapted, was that it was a “chick-flick” (hello, ’90s) about (and presumably for) men. So not only does this series’ gender-flip of protagonist Rob (played by John Cusack in the 2000 film) cancel out one of the story’s two main hooks, but Rob-as-a-female isn’t even really mined for new material or implications, and instead largely follows the same beats as the original, but spread thinly over eight episodes, which don’t offer consistent comedy, new insights, or even some of the portable insights of the source material.
Maybe the only reason we’re following the unremarkable adventures of Rob is that producer and co-writer Zoë Kravitz is so watchable (or, perhaps, the meta-weirdness of the fact that Kravitz’s mother, Lisa Bonet, played one of the women Cusack’s Rob sleeps with in the film version). On the page, Rob is self-absorbed but with no distinctive or compelling interior, she doesn’t have much of a character arc, and she doesn’t really earn what little “redemption” she supposedly has by the series end.
Why are we following Rob? Why do her friends care about her, when she clearly doesn’t care about them?
It’s a mystery what it is about Rob’s life that makes it the centre of those of everyone around her. The characters around Rob are better portrayed than they are written – with the possible exception of Clyde (Jake Lacy), who is so nice that it makes even less sense that he sticks around when Rob treats him so poorly, so consistently: is it that the performance never comes together, or that there is little-to-nothing on the page to begin with?
We don’t even need to reach back to the 2000 film version to see what this series could have been: 2019 series Russian Doll features a chain-smoking, sailor swearing, freely fucking, spikily charming, walking disaster of a New York female, has plenty of interesting, fresh, and compelling things to say, with a clearly-earned arc about a self-absorbed person learning to be compassionate, showcased within an inventive storytelling framework (and gorgeous production design). Russian Doll clearly loves its shambolic lead too, but it also critiques her, and crucially asks – and answers – why we are following her adventure. That show’s co-writer and star, Natasha Lyonne, even directs an episode of this series – which makes the comparison more pointed, and the missed opportunities here more apparent, confounding, and disappointing.
Over the course of the series, High Fidelity also never quite manages to achieve the other core conceit of the original text and film: portraying its characters’ all-consuming love of music, and how it may be a sabotaging influence on real human interaction (“What came first, the music or the misery?” asks Rob in the film’s opening line). Sure, they work in a record store, and they demonstrate a knowledge of music trivia (or a quick glance at Wikipedia), but the world of the show feels more music-adjacent than music-infused – particularly for a story set in a brick-and-mortar record store in the age of streaming. And the liberties taken when editing some of the needle drops in service of the action or dialogue in many scenes are not the cuts of a show supposedly about a deep love of and reverence for popular music.
The series really misses a trick with the two kids Rob offers to lend records to sample for their own music-making: beyond casting two such immediately charming screen presences as Peachy (Kyoko Takenaka) and Shane (Sydney Mae Diaz), we learn little about them, and we can’t see that Rob learns any more than we do – certainly not enough to sponsor two shoplifters of whose very existence she only just learned, much less what it might mean to her personally to be a musical benefactor, or any more general desire Rob has to engage with music beyond selling it. Try as I have not to compare and contrast with the 2000 film, this is an example of what the series doesn’t manage in eight episodes to do what the film manages in under two minutes:
There seem to be so many opportunities for more interesting storytelling, or choices that demonstrate why this was a story worth telling – or, at the very least, what the story was supposed to be.
Funnily enough, Hornby already produced a female-perspective response to High Fidelity, in the better-conceived, better-realised, and ultimately more charming Juliet, Naked (2018):