‘High Fidelity’ tackles sociopolitical issues head on but doesn't forget to carry its tunes
From Michael Jackson and Kanye to mid-life crises and representation, the show tackles several topics without it getting in the way of the main plot
This article contains spoilers for the Hulu series 'High Fidelity' (2020)
Let’s be honest - when we think of John Cusack's ‘High Fidelity’, we’re not thinking about the major political events and social movements that were taking place in that time period. We’re thinking about what playlist to listen to today.
But bringing ‘High Fidelity’ into the modern era means having nuanced discussions about modern issues. Because much as we’d like to escape them and simply enjoy the music, these issues affect everything including the music artists put out - and whether anyone will buy their work.
And that’s one of the many questions Zoe Kravitz’s ‘High Fidelity’ asks: how far are we willing to let our problematic faves go before we stop supporting them?
Replacing a scene from the movie where Cusack’s Rob and his associates shame a customer for wanting to buy ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, Kravitz’s Rob and associates instead debate the ethics behind selling Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ to a customer.
They ask: is it okay to sell the work of an accused serial child-molester and withhold the genius of Quincy Jones from the world, or should personal music preferences and capitalism (because, you know, they have no customers) take precedence when making that decision?
We even get a quick to-and-fro about Charles Manson (yes, THAT Charles Manson, the one who led a cult and orchestrated several murders including Sharon Tate's) and whether listening to his music is ethical. Oh, you haven't heard? That’s right, the monster’s got tunes.
Ultimately, rock-paper-scissors makes the decision for us. It sells. Personal taste and capitalism win.
Another dilemma Kravitz’s ‘Rob’ faces is being invited to purchase a huge record collection only to find out the seller is a wife seeking revenge on the actual owner - her cheating husband - and will take no more than $20 for it.
Despite finding out that the owner in question is a terrible person Rob chooses not to buy the collection: everyone deserves to have music in their lives, even a conceited patronizing misogynist.
On to one of the most important aspects of the show: diversity. We have bisexual biracial Rob and, in contrast to her skinny, light-skin, modern hipster of a lead we have Cherise, the seemingly-heterosexual larger dark-skin black woman. While the show drops hints of the disparity in privilege and experiences of discrimination these two characters might face, it shies away from actually having that conversation. Here’s hoping we see these issues tackled in season two (there IS going to be a season two...right?).
We also have the gay white man in Simon and his equally gay white partners on the show who give us some beautiful insight into what Sylvester (the gay black ‘Queen of Disco’ from the 70s) did for gay men and his enduring influence on music-lovers since.
And we have heterosexual and multiracial couples in Rob’s brother Cameron and his wife and Rob’s ex Mac and his fiancee, Lily. And with the mention of Indian food, we get just the expected level of representation for South Asian brown folk on an American TV show.
We also have nonbinary youngsters Kyoko Takenaka and Sydney Mae Diaz as the duo Peachy and Shane, so altogether the tokens are complete! But on a more serious note, the show definitely does a better job and representation than most. Props must be given where they are due.
The show also manages to round out the characters from the book and movie pretty well: originally showcasing what arrested development might look like in an adult not quite ready to grow up yet, this modern iteration of the same characters gives them much more depth than they had before.
That’s the beauty of a show versus a movie - you get more legroom to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about topical issues and emotional bruises.
That doesn’t, however, mean it’s all adulting all the time.
We get one full episode of Cam realizing that he grew up overnight and has a baby on the way so he does what any sane adult would do - he goes on an alcohol and drug-filled bender, parties all day and night, and makes several bad choices including getting into a fight and slamming his head into a table.
Hey, sometimes amidst all the issues and sociopolitical hang-ups, you just need one night off to make terrible life decisions just so you can feel one fleeting moment of joy before you have to go be a full-grown adult again.
'High Fidelity' premiered on February 14, 2020, and all episodes are now streaming on Hulu.