For your binging pleasure: Mozart in the Jungle

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Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal plays Mozart‘s rock star-like conductor, Rodrigo

If Rogers is puzzled as to why the numbers on Hockey Night in Canada are so dramatically down this season, they may have to look beyond the spiraling fortunes of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Last Saturday, Feb. 21, a Toronto/Winnipeg tilt on CBC’s Rogers rental Hockey Night in Canada drew 1,407,000 overnight, estimated viewers. The late game, between the Stanley Cup champion L.A, Kings and San Jose Sharks, was seen by 488,000. Those numbers are down half a million from the last few season averages.

Part of the problem is options. Viewers are migrating away from traditional network schedules toward TV anytime binge-fests.

This Friday, Netflix dropped 13 episodes of the much-anticipated third season of House of Cards. There are people watching that right now who might otherwise be reading this blog.

The new Canadian digital platform, Shomi–co-owned by Rogers and Shaw–also dropped 10-episodes of binge-worthy content this weekend: Mozart in the Jungle. The series of half-hour drama episodes hails from Amazon Prime, the same hot house which gave us the critically-acclaimed Transparent.

Loosely based on Blair Tindall’s memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, the half hour drama explores a young oboe player’s adventures as she tries to crack the lineup of the fictional New York Philharmonic. It’s been compared to “Girls” meets “Smash” with a little “Fame” thrown in.

Shomi hosted a press screening earlier in the week at Toronto’s Massey Hall and had a string quartet on stage playing Mozart. I asked the conductor if he had any sex tales to share and was surprised when two rather dignified members of the quartet stepped forward and shared stories about symphony shenanigans. There was Arturo Toscanini, conductor of the famed NBC Symphony Orchestra in the ’40s and ’50s. That man and his baton, apparently.

I spoke with the cast and producers of Mozart in the Jungle last fall in New York.  The showrunners are as well known as the cast: Jason Schwartzman, his cousin, Roman Coppola and director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”). All three responded to this world of temperamental artists but especially Schwartzman and Coppola, who both grew up in artistic environments. Read more about that here in this feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.

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Malcolm McDowell plays the old maestro pushed aside by Rodrigo. Elijah Wood was up for the part, but everyone knows Wood makes a poor conductor (joke source: Marx, Groucho; “A Night at the Opera”)

Playing an older maestro pushed aside by a young, fiery upstart is Malcolm McDowell.  The 71-year-old actor says he well remembers how his life was changed by artistic success. “I got very lucky, I started off with a genius director,” he says of working with Lindsay Anderson on “If…” (1968). “I think they’d screened the film twice,” he says, and “this very attractive girl came up and started hugging me on the street.”

McDowell believes that “the purist performance you’ll ever give in your life is the first one, because you’re untainted by technique—you just do it.”

He also remembers Anderson’s humbling words at the time. “Ah well Malcolm, it’s all downhill from here.”

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