‘High Fidelity’: Hulu’s unapologetic spin on an old classic

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When Zoë Kravitz breaks the fourth wall, she makes sure you’re watching. She’s almost intimidating to watch, yet impossible to take your eyes off of.

Hulu’s new series, “High Fidelity,” follows Kravitz as she plays Rob, which is short for Robyn but obviously abbreviated to give her even more intrigue. Rob is the owner of Championship Vinyl in the heart of Brooklyn, a store that makes up for its lack of foot traffic with a wide record selection. With her two close comrades, Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Simon (David H. Holmes), the trio runs the store by day and discusses music, future aspirations and their “desert island top-five picks” by night. 

While their picks range from ballad love albums to queens of the music scene, Rob narrates the plot of the series based on her desert island all-time top-five most memorable heartbreaks. These start with an elementary school crush and end with her most recent breakup with her seemingly perfect ex-fiancé Mac. We witness the emotional strain of this breakup right off the bat in episode one.

“High Fidelity” centers on Rob, who dominates the plot and absorbs all attention with her first-person narration. At times, the pure saturation of Kravitz’s screen time becomes sickly sweet as the addiction to her character grows. It is her created cult of personality, though, that makes the scenes about others so intriguing. Simon has his own episode that focuses on his emotionally abusive relationship with his longtime partner, and it is by far one of the most taut and conflicting relationships in the entire series. While Rob has lots of now-cliched flings, Simon’s relationship explores the manipulative and degrading sides of a partnership laced with unhealthy power dynamics.

As Rob recounts her heartbreaks, each episode takes on a genre-fluid soundtrack that encompasses her own messy lifestyle. With classic Fleetwood Mac tracks, Otis Brown ballads and the iconic John Cusack anthem “You Make Me Sick,” the songs not only highlight the plot of each episode, but also add complexity and character to the unfolding scenes.

The thing about “High Fidelity” is that it’s self-aware. The series is a remake of the original 2000 film, which stars John Cusack as the moping record store owner. With a similar plot line and plenty of early 2000s stylistic and script choices, Kravitz’s portrayal reimagines Cusack’s character in the modern era. In its incredible self-awareness, the plot remains fresh, although at times strained. The quick one-liners appear charming, but eventually the cadence of the series becomes one and the same: Kravitz traipses nonchalantly through the half-gentrified streets of Brooklyn with a banging ballad playing, starting a monologue about this or that ex-partner.

While the tone becomes repetitive with each episode, it isn’t exactly a bad thing. “High Fidelity” creates an environment, albeit a monotone one, for intense character development to unravel across the 10 episodes. Rob’s emotional volatility makes for a car-crash of a character — you simply can’t look away from her introspective yet sabotaging choices. The explanations of her righteousness become apparent with each heartbreak, and yet Rob remains steadfast in her decisions, reflecting inward with an inquisitive gaze. While she’s wistful for her latest lost lover, she’s not so nostalgic for the rest of her emotional past.

“High Fidelity” doesn’t apologize for creating an environment that borders between Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” and Lucia Aniello’s “Broad City.” It marries the severity of Rob’s turbulent past relationships with the lightheartedness of her epic music choices and graceful nonchalance. While more could be gained from the Rob character’s switch to female, considering Cusack’s original rendition, it’s hard to ask more from a show that edges on the simplistic in its design and delivery. It doesn’t try to push further than what is expected, but regardless of that, “High Fidelity” should still be merited for its deep dive into the inner workings of relationships, all set to a soundtrack that holds more than enough songs to break a heart.

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected].