Like the 2000 Stephen Frears film and the Nick Nick Hornby novel before it, Hulu’s gender-flipped take on High Fidelity arrives with a free-flowing musical vernacular. The series stars Zoë Kravitz as Rob, a record store owner with encyclopedic music knowledge and an equally dense history of failed relationships.
While the show puts the story in a modern context, the practice of breaking the fourth wall and the characters' penchant for Top 5 lists will be familiar to fans of the original. Likewise, as much as the show is about Rob’s romantic heartbreaks, the music that she surrounds herself with is just as integral. Though you won’t find much contemporary music in her rotation, the first season recontextualizes some truly classic songs for today’s specific landmines of falling in and out of love. Here are the essential music moments that comprise High Fidelity’s Season 1 playlist:
Episode 1: “Top Five Heartbreaks” - “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
If any song guarantees sex on a first date it’s Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song serves as a restart button for Rob after a very underwhelming start to a first date with the charmingly square Clyde (played by the boyfriend of seemingly every onscreen Brooklyn woman, Jake Lacy). Rob goes into the band’s messy relationship history instead of her own, but her dissection of the Rumours album and their artistry still makes for a perfect first date pitch of her personality.
Episode 2: “Track 2” - “I’ll Make Love to You” by Thomas Doherty
Kravitz’s mom Lisa Bonet co-starred in the original film as a rock songstress, and the series reinvents her character as a modern day Jeff Buckley named Liam (Thomas Doherty). Rob joins her friends Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) at a club where he’s performing, and the earth stops on its axis when he performs a loin-quaking version of Boys II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You.” Everyone in the crowd wants him to be singing about them, including the record store threesome. “I used to hate this song,” Rob says slack-jawed, “now I kinda love it.”
Episode 3: “What Fucking Lily Girl” - “Heart of Glass” by Blondie
Just in case you think Rob takes her music obsessions far too seriously, the third episode caps it with some silliness. By now we’ve already heard “Heart of Glass” in the background at the record store, but Rob spins a remix at home while thinking about her own shattered heart. High on the idea of reconnecting with her greatest heartbreaks, Rob starts talking to a materialized Debbie Harry, who helps her form a plan.
Episode 4: “Good Luck and Goodbye” - “It Aint Easy” by David Bowie
One of the rules High Fidelity proposes in making a playlist is that you have be surprising but not too obscure. The series achieves this spectacularly well in the closer of its fourth episode, as Rob discovers that Mac has proposed to his new girlfriend. Rob’s torrent of feelings is thunderously embodied in one of the series most discussed artists, while using a banger from his most famous album: David Bowie’s “It Aint Easy” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Episode 5: “Uptown” - “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie
One of the other playlist rules is not to feature multiple songs from the same artist — a rule High Fidelity smashes in the fifth episode when it again closes an episode with Bowie. After a long day dealing with an eccentric artist in Manhattan trying to pawn her husband’s record collection (played by Parker Posey, of course), Clyde sneaks Rob a rare original copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. Though she’d been coveting it since the birth of her music obsession, the gift doesn’t make their connection any less confoundingly awkward. Ending the episode on the album’s title track tells us Rob’s going to spend the night listening to it while stewing about the guy who gave it to her.
Episode 6: “Weird... but Warm” - “Lonely” by Swamp Dogg
Thankfully the show sometimes just marinates in the love of music, like this episode that centers its record store scenes on the act of introducing others to your favorites. Cherise piles a customer's arms with her essential albums, while Simon cringingly flirts while discussing cassettes as a still viable music platform. But the best moment comes when Rob induces musical fandom by announcing “I will now sell five copies of Love, Loss, and Autotune by Swamp Dogg,” before playing the album over the store’s loudspeaker. Swamp Dogg’s “Lonely” kicks in, and damned if I didn’t immediately look it up on Spotify and enter it into my heavy rotation.
Episode 7: “Me Time” - A Top 5 of Wanking Songs
Like the source material, the series stirs up a lot of fun by throwing around Top 5 lists of musical favorites — so not including one of them in full on a High Fidelity playlist would be a cruel disservice. One of the most hilarious comes in the midst of a fierce debate between Rob, Simon, and Cherise about the greatest masturbation songs. Their mentions for best self-love tracks: “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls, “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry, “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper, “Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol, and “All By Myself” by Céline Dion and/or Eric Carmen, with “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes as an alternate vote. Justice for Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself”!
Episode 8: “Ballad of the Lonesome Loser” - “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester
Episode 8 takes a break from Rob’s romantic misadventures to focus on Simon and his Top 5 Heartbreaks, all of them caused by a bigshot lawyer named Ben (Christian Coulson) who gives him chlamydia. Initially, it seems as though the primly suited Ben is using the grungy t-shirted and unambitious Simon, but when Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” plays on the jukebox, he launches into a passionate history lesson about Sylvester’s queer identity and the important distinctions between modern pop and disco’s power. “Disco is the sound of liberation,” he tells Ben, whose rapt gaze dispels our fears that he’s not genuinely into Simon.
Episode 9: “Fun Rob” - “You Got Me” by The Roots (ft. Tariq Trotter, Erykah Badu, and Eve)
In Episode 9, Rob’s impromptu birthday hangout with her ex Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) has disaster written all over it. But when they share rooftop pizza and beers, Mac presses play on a track that perfectly models the scene’s sexual tension with an undercurrent of coming calamity: “You Got Me” by The Roots (ft. Tariq Trotter, Erykah Badu, and Eve). They’re already flirting with emotional danger, with Mac revealing his anxieties over his imminent marriage. While it looks like a hook up is on the menu, Rob has an even more nuclear bombshell to drop.
Episode 10: “The Other Side of the Rock” - “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder
Of course the series had to incorporate the film’s best needle drop, Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”, but it does so beautifully by bookending the season finale. First, we flash back to Rob and Mac listening to the song on an idyllic day in the park. In the present, the song closes the episode with Cherise teaching herself chords on her new electric guitar gifted from Rob. Randolph coos a heartfelt vocal that embodies Rob’s complicated longing as she starts to clean up her messes. And then Rob puts on her headphones, and Stevie’s original slams back — suggesting Rob is returning to the memory of that day in the park, and one-upping the film’s closing with an even more effective song cue.
All ten first season episodes of High Fidelity are now available for streaming on Hulu.
People are talking about High Fidelity in our forums. Join the conversation.
Chris Feil is a freelancer writer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His previous work can be found at Vulture, Vice, Paste, and The Film Experience. Follow him @chrisvfeil on Twitter.