“What came first? The music or the misery?” The question was first posed in Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity in 1995, then was asked again in the film version in 2000, again in a Broadway musical in 2006, and here, in the year of our lord 2020, it seems we’re still trying to figure it out. The new High Fidelity series on Hulu doesn’t come right out and say it, but it does highlight that no matter who you are or where (or when) you live, getting over heartbreak is a universal experience—and sometimes using music is the best way to do it.
This iteration of the story takes place in present-day Brooklyn where Rob (an absolutely perfect Zoë Kravitz) owns a record shop and is still wallowing in misery one year after breaking up with the great love of her life. Helping her figure it all out—sort of—are her best friends and employees Simon and Cherise (David H. Holmes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph), her brother (Rainbow Sun Francks), and a potential new love interest (Jake Lacy). Just like in the source material, Rob decides to revisit her top five heartbreaks to figure out why she can’t stay in a relationship. The show maintains the spirit of the original without feeling like an exact photocopy, even when it comes very, very close. There are moments that are nearly exact replicas of the film—expect to hear some of the same quotable lines, and you better believe Kravitz ends up crying in the rain—something that really has no business working. But when you have two Black women and a gay man stealing the words out of three straight white men’s mouths, it feels completely different and, dare I say (I’m gonna say it), so much better.
The series is inclusive not just in casting, but musically, thanks in part to executive music supervisor Questlove. In an interview with IndieWire, the creators of the show, Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka, say that the entire series features music from every continent, and the soundtrack includes classic rock hits, obscure tracks from well-known artists, completely overlooked bands, and everything that might be in the cracks in between. The snobbery of these record store rats doesn’t come from looking down on someone’s tastes but from knowing that they have something for everyone. The in-store “top five” arguments don’t shame anyone for what they might like, they question the larger rules around that taste—is it still OK to listen to Michael Jackson?
Every iteration of High Fidelity, at its core, is about human interaction, whether it be romantic, professional, social, or familial. “It’s what you like, not what you are like,” is a central thesis expressed by several characters. But the great reveal throughout the course of the story is finding out that what these central characters are like matters more than they think, whether they realize it or not. That’s a lot to pack into a two-hour film, and where the series really shines is its ability to show more nuances in not just Rob and her relationships, but the other characters in her life and how they affect each other. Cherise isn’t just larger-than-life comedic relief a la Jack Black, she has her own fully developed and often emotional storyline. A standout episode in the series switches perspectives completely, and we get a glimpse into Simon’s romantic past. Like a good compilation, the show takes each character through their own ups and downs. Everyone is painted as both the asshole and the hero, just doing their best to figure out their own messes, set to their own perfect soundtrack. v
High Fidelity is streaming on Hulu