High Fidelity (TV Series) - Season 1 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

High Fidelity (TV Series)

Season 1 (2020)


The 2000 film, High Fidelity, has definitely been on my all time top five desert island movies list ever since it first came out when I was in high school. Besides being a hilarious movie with a great cast and easily my favorite performance that Jack Black has ever given (particularly in his rendition of “Let’s Get It On” at the end), I loved seeing a movie about music and pop-culture nerds who were as obsessed as I was. To this day I can’t watch the movie without yelling back at the screen during some of the nerdy rants, like the scene where Dick tries to explain to Anna that Green Day’s primary influences are The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, at which point he puts on “Suspect Device” and someone asks if it’s the new Green Day. First of all, Green Day probably has some Stiff Little Fingers influence, but everyone knows their primary influences are The Clash, Operation Ivy, and The Who. And secondly, nobody with ears has ever mistaken Stiff Little Fingers for Green Day.

After the movie, I went back and read the book it was based on, which, apart from taking place in London instead of Chicago, barely differs from the movie except for one famous scene in the book where a scorned wife tries to sell her cheating ex-husband’s record collection for dirt cheap and the main character, Rob, can’t bring himself to take the collection for as little as she’s selling it for (we’ll come back to this scene later). After the book and movie came the 2006 ill-advised and short-lived Broadway musical that I had planned to go see with a friend but never got around to. I tried listening to the soundtrack at one point and I honestly got about 90 seconds into it before giving up because of how terrible it is.

But as the years went on and I matured and my own relationship with masculinity changed, I started to realize something: Rob is pretty terrible to women. Some of his language is blatantly misogynistic like “It was as if breasts were little pieces of property that had been unlawfully annexed by the opposite sex—they were rightfully ours and we wanted them back.” But the worst example of Rob’s poor treatment of women comes in the scene in the movie and the book when he meets up with his old high school girlfriend, Penny, and she tells him that, because Rob dumped her for not having sex with him, she gave in and slept with the next person she dated in such a way that “it wasn’t rape because I said ‘okay’ but it wasn’t far off!” Rather than having a normal, human reaction to finding out he had been partially responsible for his ex-girlfriend’s first sexual experience being traumatic for her, Rob celebrates that he wasn’t actually the one being rejected in that relationship. So, when I heard that Hulu was doing a gender-swapped (not to mention race-swapped) adaptation of High Fidelity, I got excited that there might now be a version of one of my favorite stories that’s not as problematic in how it treats women. But it led me to one very persistent and nagging question: for better or worse, High Fidelity has always been a story of tragically flawed masculinity and overcoming one’s own toxically masculine traits, so what even is High Fidelity about this time around if it’s not about a man?

Hulu’s High Fidelity has been greeted with a lot of complaints from people saying “Stop remaking everything,” but this High Fidelity is less a remake or a reboot than a remix of both the book and the movie. The show covers scenes that were in the book and not the movie (that scorned wife scene I mentioned gets fleshed out into a full episode with Parker Posie), and scenes from the movie that didn’t appear in the book (like the skate punk kids who shoplift from the store and have a band that Rob ends up supporting), plus some scenes that never happened in either (including a whole episode of exploring the love life of Simon, who’s this show’s version of Dick from the book/movie). There are little nods to the past incarnations, like the fact that the last episode of the season both begins and ends with the same song that ends the movie, Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).”

But the story elements are chopped and screwed around with, rearranged and reimagined. It uses the book and movie as a loose skeleton to build off of and you can see vague outlines of what used to be there, but it’s pretty clearly grown into its own, different thing.

The main character of Rob—which is short for Robyn in the series, but everyone calls her Rob—is a difficult one to gender swap and I’m not sure that every actress would be as up to the task as Zoë Kravitz. I have to admit to not knowing much about Kravitz apart from her famous parents, one of whom even appeared in the High Fidelity movie in 2000, which makes for a bit of an awkward moment when Rob ends up sleeping with the character that Kravitz’s mother played in the movie. Kravitz’s Rob keeps the characters vulnerability, the obsessive qualities, the fear of commitment, and the encyclopedic knowledge of music and pop culture, but Kravitz and the writers understand that those traits look different in a 29 year old, bisexual, black woman in Brooklyn than in a 35 year old, straight, white man in London or Chicago, and they adjust the character accordingly. The problematic scene with Penny completely disappears, replaced by a scene with another ex named Justin who has his own tragic story about what happened after he broke up with Rob, but thankfully not one that makes Rob look like a monster. I worried that the writers would find it necessary, with the character’s change of race, for Kravitz’s Rob to be primarily focused on “black music.” Rob in the book and movie never limited his knowledge to white artists by any means, with the book’s Rob calling Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” his all-time favorite record. While it’s true that Kravitz’s Rob probably listens to a bit more hip-hop than the other versions, I was delighted to see that Kravitz’s Rob has a wide variety of musical knowledge, can debate the merits of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors vs. Tusk, listens to punk, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Wings live album, and obsesses over David Bowie and calls Blackstar the best album of the last 20 years.

Cherise, the show’s gender-swapped and race-swapped version of Barry, who was played by Jack Black in the movie, loses a little bit in the translation. The actress who plays Cherise, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, puts in an excellent performance, and the writers did a great job of making her a more sympathetic character than Barry ever was. But there’s something about her personality that makes it hard for me to believe that she would be as much of music nerd as the other characters. David H. Holmes plays Simon, who is loosely based on Dick from the book and movie, and really sells himself as a shy, gay music nerd. Another one of my favorite performances comes from Ivanna Sakhno, who only appears in one episode as Kat, the equivalent of Charlie from the book and movie, the only woman on Rob’s all time heartbreaks list. Sakhno reminds me a lot of Kate McKinnon, and she puts in a very memorable performance in her one episode as a flighty, shallow social media celebrity. Thomas Doherty, who plays more or less the role that Kravitz’s mother plays in the film, doesn’t leave a very lasting impression and barely moves the plot forward and could easily have been cut without losing much of anything. It feels like they mostly just kept his character in there out of obligation to the original story.

One of the best things about the series is that, no matter how well you know the story of High Fidelity already, you don’t know what’s coming at the end. For one thing, the whole story is so twisted and reimagined that it’s not really safe to assume that they’re going to do anything like the book or movie. For another thing, the book’s love interest, Laura, is basically split into two characters, Mac and Clyde, so you don’t really have any idea which, if either, Rob is going to end up with. The season leaves itself open ended, and a second season would probably have to depart from the book and movie even more, but there are still a few scenes that haven’t been covered yet, most notably the funeral scene and Rob’s big comeback show. I asked before what the story would be if it’s not about masculinity. The answer is that it’s about how commitment phobia knows no gender. Overall, it’s a very strong series that is worthy of the name High Fidelity while still standing on its own legs as a separate entity from the book and movie, and is highly enjoyable for old and new fans alike.