Just Press Play: Hulu’s ‘High Fidelity’ (2020) is One Infinitely Good Playlist

“Making a playlist is a delicate art.  It’s like writing a love letter, but better, in a way.  You get to say what you wanna say without actually saying it.  You get to use someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. And then there are the rules: It’s gotta be entertaining.  You gotta tell a story. You can’t be too obvious, but you can’t be too obscure, either. Anyway, a good compilation, like all things in life, is hard to do.”

As stated above, any good playlist has to be able to tell a story — and just like a good playlist, High Fidelity (based upon the eponymously-titled novel and film, both written and adapted by author Nick Hornby), is one story that steadily and satisfyingly builds over time.  While the series continues to cover the familiar rom-com territory its earlier iterations were built upon (it does display “fidelity” in its title, after all), it also works to further expand and update the mid-90s, early-2000s worlds of its source material with references to our post-Millennial present — all while told mainly through the point-of-view of record shop proprietor Robyn “Rob” Brooks, now in the form of a woman on the cusp of her thirties (Zoë Kravitz). 

Still nursing a broken heart after having split from her former fiancé, Russell “Mac” McCormack (Kingsley Ben-Adir) just the year before, Rob soothes her sorrows the only way she knows how: through flashbacks and awkward reunions over the course of ten half-hour episodes, she takes us down the list of her Desert Island Top Five Heartbreaks.  Her personal “tracklist” becomes the embodiment of music’s inextricable link with one’s memory: the way it could take you back to a time and place when a song or mixtape seemed to define a moment or alter the course of your life.  A great example of this is a bottle episode — and mid-season highlight — in which Rob’s former-lover, current-best-friend Simon (David H. Holmes) rehashes his own Desert Island Top Five. 

Bumping up the nostalgia factor in Fidelity is its production value — shot in a dreamy, hazy Brooklyn replete with neon-lit old-timey hipster dive bars and specialty shops clash with the sterile, Millennial-Pink we associate with Crown Heights these days.  The show’s own tracklist, which ranges from vintage bonafides like Prince and Blondie to modern indie favorites such as Hot Chip and TV on the Radio, proves just as satisfyingly genre-bending and nostalgia-inducing as the show itself — resultant of the collaborative efforts of music supervisors Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe, and Alison Rosenfeld; as well as executive producer Kravitz and special consultant Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.  (Yes, that Questlove).

Fidelity‘s famously signature thesis (that it’s not what we are like, but what we like, that ultimately matters) is put to the test throughout the season.  As Rob says at one point: “Half of the neighborhood thinks we’re washed-up relics. The other half think we’re nostalgic hipsters. They’re both kind of right.”  Championship Vinyl is, after all, the very embodiment of all things once culturally cherished, the last bastion of a time when things were good — where the influencers were the people standing on the other side of the register.  Indeed, in one telling scene features Championship employee — and Rob’s other bestie — Cherise (scene-stealer Da’Vine Joy Randolph) confronts a customer mindlessly Shazaam-ing a song playing in the store, while completely ignoring the fact that she’s standing right in front of him. 

It’s this very confrontation of our current latte-guzzling, Instagram-Selfie culture that makes High Fidelity an interesting remix of the original — one you’ll want to replay over and over again.

Photo ©️ Phillip Caruso/Hulu