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Damien Chazelle Builds an Intoxicating World in Netflix's The Eddy

The La La Land director's new miniseries takes us deep into the life of a Parisian jazz club.
  • Amandla Stenberg and Andre Holland in The Eddy. (Netflix)
    Amandla Stenberg and Andre Holland in The Eddy. (Netflix)

    In the second episode of Netflix's The Eddy, there's a moment when we're practically inside the exhilaration of two characters who are running down a Paris street. A handheld camera zooms around their shoulders, chins, and legs as they go yelping along, so that all we see — all we feel — is their exuberance.

    Then the camera stops moving, but they don't.

    Now we watch them disappear as they keep barreling forward, no less excited but suddenly out of our reach. We're aware of the pedestrians and cars and general urban life that was always around them. We remember that despite its energy, their story isn't really so big. This doesn't detract from their joy, but it does ask us to be more contemplative about it — to remember that nobody's existence is bigger than life.

    That's how it goes on this show, whose eight episodes arrive on Netflix on May 8. Produced and directed by Academy Award-winner Damien Chazelle and created by Tony Award-winning playwright Jack Thorne, it's essentially about the musicians who play at The Eddy, a struggling jazz club in a less-than-fancy Paris neighborhood. The central character (more or less) is Elliot Udo (Andre Holland), an American expat who's trying to navigate his floundering career, the shady dealings of his business partner, and the self-destructive sadness of his teenage daughter, who just arrived from New York.

    It would be inaccurate, though, to say the show is about Elliot or the club or any one plotline. Really, The Eddy is about the rhythms of life in this community. It's about the way these particular artists and their families metabolize the daily contradictions of being alive. One of their friends might get murdered in the same week that another starts a new school or another learns to forgive her deadbeat brother. The series pays attention to all of it, and never lets any one event dominate the view.

    In fact, the more "important" a scene might seem, the more likely it is the camera will slide to someone on the sidelines. During a memorial party for that murdered friend, for instance, we often linger on unnamed extras who are snacking or chatting or playing music during a tribute song. Even though we can feel the grief of the dead man's widow and his best friend, we can't forget that for other people, this is less a life-altering moment than it is a future anecdote.

    And that, frankly, is why The Eddy is so engrossing. Though its worldview might feel jarring at first — especially as the pilot episode finds its footing — it ultimately delivers the sense of a true community. The deaths and fights and yelping adventures accumulate a different kind of power because we see them alongside each other. We're reminded that this is how life actually works. One person's big thing is another person's small thing, and we're all juggling big and small events at any given moment. There's a rare kind of empathy in a series that knows how to depict that.

    It makes sense that Damien Chazelle is part of this. (Along with producing, he also directs the first two episodes.) His two most recent films — La La Land and First Man — create large worlds for their characters to inhabit. Whether it's the beckoning beauty of the Los Angeles creative community, or the awe-inspiring grandeur of outer space, Chazelle constructs a large context for us to be enamored by, right along with his protagonists.

    Thorne — who did his own worldbuilding when he wrote the script for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — cements this wide-lens approach by focusing each episode on a different character, including two members of the club's house band whom we barely even notice at first. This not only gives us a rich understanding of a large group of characters, but also lets a vast array of actors do remarkable work. As Elliot's daughter Julie, Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) is astonishing as she peels back her tougher-than-thou attitude to reveal her anger and grief about her family's past. As a professionally stifled singer with romantic ties to Elliot, Joanna Kulig (Cold War) uses her episode to demonstrate that a single glance to the left can indicate an entire shift in thought.

    Meanwhile, several roles are played by musicians with no previous acting experience. The series gives them extended performance scenes — with original songs by the pop legend Glen Ballard — to demonstrate that making music is a great way to tell the world how you feel. With each of these additional layers, The Eddy builds out its world and ultimately delivers an incredibly satisfying approach to expansive storytelling.

    All eight episodes of The Eddy drop on Netflix today.

    Will you be watching The Eddy? We've created a new discussion area for the show in our forums. Please join us there.

    Mark Blankenship is a critic and reporter who has contributed to The New York Times, Variety, and many others. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.

    TOPICS: The Eddy, Netflix, Andre Holland, Damien Chazelle