Life is complicated, your 20s are full of growing pains, and New York City is always changing (but always the same). This describes half of all TV shows, including High Fidelity, Hulu’s latest original series, and a reboot of the 2000 film of the same name, which is based on a book by Nick Hornby.
In this iteration, Rob (Zoe Kravitz, finally in a lead role), owner of a barely profitable record store in quickly gentrifying Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is still recovering from a big, fat breakup with a fiancé one year after the fact. She can’t get over the pain of the heartbreak, especially when her ex moves back to town with a new fiancée. But more significantly, she’s desperate to know why all her breakups hurt her so bad, even the boyfriend she had for three days in middle school. So, Rob embarks on a quest to contact her exes and ask what is wrong with her. There’s the eternally mediocre stand-up comedian, the cool-girl Instagram influencer, the aforementioned fiancé, and her friend/employee Simon (David Holmes), who came out while they were dating.
(It’s worth noting that I have not seen the John Cusack movie nor read the book, so whether it stays true to either is irrelevant to me.)
When she’s not drinking and smoking alone in her apartment, or walking and smoking in her signature leather trench coat, Rob is usually at the record store, where customers are sporadic. Rob, Simon, and emphatic employee/friend Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) treat the record store like a clubhouse, playing whatever songs they want as loud as they want. They’re often rude to customers in the name of taste, like when a customer asks for a Michael Jackson record. Cherise doesn’t want to sell it, because, you know, Michael Jackson. Simon argues that it’s impossible to only like artists who are good people. The customer keeps butting in with the word “alleged” and Rob initially sides with Cherise before giving in for the sake of money.
While the show is rooted in finding/losing romance, its most interesting bits come from considering the relationship between art and being a “good” person. Rob is not bad beyond repair, but she is a self-absorbed, narcissistic, impulsive person who often says she’s going to the bathroom in the middle of a meal and then just leaves. When looking back at failed relationships, she often realizes she was actually the one who did the breaking up.
One of the show’s best episodes begins with Rob and friends shooting the shit in the record store by discussing their favorite movie villains. Simon posits that “there’s no such thing as a great villain with whom you don’t on some level identify.” In the middle of the discussion, Rob gets a call from a rich, eccentric artist named Noreen (a pitch-perfect Parker Posey), who wants to sell her cheating ex-husband’s extremely valuable record collection for very cheap (for revenge). Rob feels uneasy, so she goes to spy on the ex-husband just to verify that he is indeed very shitty. But when she goes back to pick up the records from Noreen, she can’t go through with it, knowing this guy cares about his records as much as she cares about hers. She thinks he deserves to love music even though his personality truly sucks.
“Why did I side with the bad guy?” she asks on the way home.
High Fidelity is an imperfect show; it can be too cutesy and too focused on trying to curate its cool-but-messy-girl image. It sometimes feels dated in odd ways (like when Rob doesn’t know what a blue check mark on Instagram means). The jokes sometimes feel too obvious and the stakes too low. But aside from being a fun, likeable show, High Fidelity takes on the often difficult task of examining what it means to be a bad person, and when, and how much, that makes someone less deserving of love.
High Fidelity streams on Hulu starting Fri., Feb. 14.