Well, for starters, it’s set in Paris. The bustling, diverse metropolis wafts in through the doors and windows, clamorous with honks and shouts. The characters of The Eddy live in this romantic environment, but barely notice it. They are professional musicians: dragging on cigarettes while toying with their instruments. They slip between French, English, Arabic, and Polish, tensely balanced between their all-consuming art and the financial demands of life in the city. The series is shot and filmed with staggering intimacy, turning Paris into a sensitively textured landscape for human dramas. Without knowing much about jazz or Paris, The Eddy feels like an all-access pass to both.
The Eddy is the name of a jazz club and the band based there, as well as of the song that bandleader Elliott (André Holland) writes throughout the entrancing eight-episode miniseries. An eddy is a circular movement of waves, perhaps strong enough to create a whirlpool. That momentum is what the show is built on—a persistent movement towards a center, without ever getting there. There’s an attraction to the eddy’s power, and a fear of becoming caught in it, too. “Keep slipping slow/ in the strong undertow,” Elliott writes. Later Maja (Joanna Kulig), his lead singer and sometime girlfriend, will sing the lines, sometimes on her own in her apartment, sometimes onstage with the band. Every time the lyrics have a different weight.
The Eddy isn’t quite a musical, although music is central to the show. Often, the action will trail off as the characters become entranced by a song or start playing it themselves. But it is not the type of thing where the characters only express their true feelings through song. The fascinating cast, nearly all musicians, bring in stories from many immigrant communities and walks of life. As executive producer Alan Poul told Vanity Fair, Glen Ballard’s pre-existing music became the basis for the series; the characters and stories were fleshed out from the songs. (Jack Thorne wrote most of the scripts.) The production recruited skilled musicians who had never acted before, like Croatian-French drummer Lada Obradovic, who sports punky, super-short bangs ears fringed with piercings. Each episode spends time with a different character, as if it’s giving them a solo. Directors Poul, Damien Chazelle, Houda Benyamina, and Laïla Marrakchi coax extraordinary realism from the cast, amateurs and the professionals alike.
Early in the season, a tragedy spurs the story forward. Grief, and paying the bills, constitutes most of the plot. As immersive as the series is, it’s occasionally hampered by story elements that don’t entirely work. A lingering subplot dabbles in the more traditional wheelhouse of television—cops, criminals, etc. But the music, and the characters who are animated by it, is what matters. In a not-so-subtle way, the show’s central narrative isn’t the mystery that Elliott spends the whole miniseries running around trying to solve. It’s Elliott’s inability to face the devastations of his own life, his reluctance to pick up an instrument again, his incompetence communicating