TV Reviews

Hulu's "High Fidelity" Finds Its Groove with Zoë Kravitz

The new series about a lovelorn Brooklyn record store owner nods at the Nick Hornby novel and John Cusack film but successfully goes its own way.

Zoe Kravitz plays Rob Brooks in the Hulu reboot of "High Fidelity."

Phillip Caruso/Hulu

Zoë Kravitz's well-produced, gender-flipped reboot of High Fidelity plays out far better than the usual remake.

The 10-episode Hulu series, which began streaming today, takes its framework and other elements from the 1995 Nick Hornby novel and the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and builds something surprisingly relevant and new.

In the new take on High Fidelity, Rob is still an intelligent but rudderless music-loving thirty-something record store owner navigating a string of bad relationships with the help of amazing soundtracks. Only now, she's a bisexual black woman in Brooklyn, rather than a straight white male in Chicago.

However, that doesn't entirely explain why the Hulu version of High Fidelity feels so different from its other iterations.

Maybe it's Kravitz. She plays Rob with warmth and brains, tempered with awkwardness in emotional situations. It makes for a far more likable lead character than Cusack's "sad bastard," whose rage occasionally boiled over.

And because she's more likable, the people around her are also more likable. Her record store employees, Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), are far more nurturing than the ones in the film, which included a scenery-chewing Jack Black in his breakout movie role. Unlike previous versions, Rob now also has a seemingly normal, supportive family and her ex-boyfriends don't generally seem that horrible – though her ex-girlfriend, Kat (perhaps a nod to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played the analogous role in the film) does seem pretty awful as an Instagram influencer.

Maybe the improvement is in the writing. In the new version, the clever banter from the movie and the book have deeper ramifications. For example, to start the second episode, Rob and her employees debate whether or not to sell Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" album to a customer.

"How does it benefit society to hold Quincy's genius hostage because the dude who sang over his sh*t ended up being a full-blown child molester?" Rob says, swayed by her love of producer Quincy Jones' horn charts on the album.

"Where'd you get that from, Rob?" Cherise asks. "'Convenient Opinions R Us'?"

"You still listen to a dude who raps in a MAGA hat, so..." replies Rob.

"Having sh*tty politics and a second-grade understanding of American history is a tiny bit different than being a goddamn child molester," replies Cherise.

They keep going, touching on Charles Manson, mental health issues, and the idea that few artists are unquestionably good people, then quickly changing the subject.

Thanks to the luxury of being a series rather than a film, High Fidelity can spend some time on these interesting characters and their interesting lives and ideas. In fact, though Rob counts down his "All-Time Top Five Most Memorable Heartbreaks" in this version like all the others, the series improves the further it deviates from that original framework.

Kravitz has clearly lived with this material for a long time. (Her mom, Lisa Bonet, played the small, but memorable role of musician Marie DeSalle in the movie, and Kravitz names the club the characters hang out in DeSalle's as a homage.) She also knows its shortcomings. Though Hornby's novel was influential in popularizing the idea of boiling pop culture down into lists, 25 years later the Internet is overflowing with Top 5 lists, and every listicle imaginable has already been written. Luckily, though that construct seems a bit dated, Rob's issues with her love life—and her worries about not having one—feel timeless. And once again, the crisp writing serves her well.

"Next week, on 'The Sad Lady Show,' we're going to team up," Rob says one bummed-out night, watching her neighbor across the street also smoke a cigarette alone. "Fight the loneliness together with cats and cigarettes and reruns of 'Murder She Wrote.'"

But in this "High Fidelity," those moods never last long. Rob believes in the transformative power of playlists, and her life is always one great song away from turning around for good.

TV

Leslie Jones Shines in "Time Machine"

In her Netflix special, the "Saturday Night Live" alum calls on twentysomethings to have more fun—for America's sake

Leslie Jones performs at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. for her Netflix special "Leslie Jones: Time Machine."

Netflix

Leslie Jones has zero chill. That's what makes her such a thrill to watch.

On her new Netflix special Leslie Jones: Time Machine, the raucous Saturday Night Live alum uses equal amounts of joy and rage–sometimes simultaneously–to show how tough it is to always be on the edge of laughing or screaming, especially in these extremely stressful times.

At the start of what will likely be a breakout year, thanks to a role in the upcoming Coming 2 America and a gig as the host of the Supermarket Sweep reboot for ABC, Jones doesn't just embrace intensely living life to its fullest—she wants more people to do the same.

"Twenty-year-olds, y'all suck," Jones says, adding that if 20-year-olds are still having fun during tumultuous times, the rest of the nation finds it comforting. "You better enjoy your damn 20s."

These days, too many twentysomethings aren't enjoying themselves, Jones says. She jokes about how so many in that age group are stressed and talk about being offended, teasing the twentysomethings in the audience about making serious choices and dressing appropriately. "You literally only been through high school," she says. "What's wrong, boo, you didn't catch Pikachu?"

What goes unsaid, though, is that the youth have plenty of reasons to worry about their futures. Legitimate unease hangs over Time Machine, symbolized by Jones' Nipsey Hussle t-shirt—which she never comments on, but which makes a similar point in almost every frame: All is not well.

For Jones, one major reason times are tougher is texting. "Who invented texting?" she screams after admitting that texting led to a recent breakup. "It wasn't a woman... Texting shows you exactly how crazy a b*tch really is. Yeah, ladies, it's in writing now."

Her dramatizations of some of her one-sided text conversations show Jones at her best. They start out with rage and declarations of "You need to respect me," which quickly turn into: "I am so sorry about that text. It was unnecessary and immature. But that's why I love you, bae. You know that I'm passionate."

Jones proposes an app that will judge your texts and ask if you are sure you want to send them. "You are at 85 percent crazy right now," she imagines the app would say. "While you're texting the one that you love, your face is not supposed to look like that."

She offers a few moments of fleeting seriousness, from cutting women some slack for sometimes cracking under societal pressure to calling for more than six weeks off for maternity leave.

To pull the whole show together, Jones wishes she could tell her younger self not to worry. "I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell my 20-year-old self it's going to be OK," she says, before imagining a conversation between her current, successful 52-year-old self and the 21-year-old version struggling to make ends meet in Compton, California.

Is it a heartwarming moment? Sort of. It doesn't quite go as planned, and Young Leslie doesn't understand her older self's warning to stop Aaliyah from sleeping with R. Kelly.

In the end, it does reinforce her message–the same one she screams at the twentysomethings wearing sensible sweaters to her show: We all need to enjoy ourselves more. We can start with Leslie Jones' morale-boosting and laugh-out-loud funny Time Machine.