A series about an African American man (André Holland) in France struggling to keep his nightclub and Parisian staff afloat amid a looming threat of organized crime seems as random as you can get for an actor who’s made his mark in very American narratives like Selma, The Knick, High Flying Bird, and Moonlight. But the always fantastic Holland draws you into a story that ultimately challenges the definition of family and the limitations of home.
Netflix’s new series The Eddy, which has both English and French dialogue, begins as a murder mystery. The eponymous club that jazz pianist Elliot (Holland) owns with his friend Farid (Tahar Rahim) is flailing financially and the former is constantly stressed because at any moment it could be ripped from beneath them. The duo barely gets by in their shoebox apartments (or in Elliot’s case, sometimes no livable quarters). They borrow money from one seedy investor to pay off a vendor, which results in Elliot getting attacked over a late invoice in the first episode. And needless to say, the morale of the house band, whose members earn individual chapters throughout the series, is abysmal. Its singer, Maja (Joanna Kulig), doesn’t even show up on a big night when they plan to perform in front of a big shot in the music business.
That tension leads up to a shocking murder at the top of the series, and it is understandably what drives the overarching narrative. In particular, it thrusts Elliot into disarray as he struggles to make sense of what happened. He sinks deeper each episode to solve a case that spirals out of his control. The stakes continue to escalate while the soulful soundtrack — helmed by Randy Kerber and Glen Ballard and featuring jazz legends like Fats Waller melted with The Eddy band’s live performances — flits from one scene to another.
But as this mystery is unraveling, the directors — including Damien Chazelle working from Jack Thorne’s scripts — open the story to show the human elements that extend far beyond the club’s woes and the vicious crimes. Elliot’s feverish attempt to solve the murder is complicated when his daughter, Julie (Amandla Stenberg), reenters his life from New York, where he left behind a promising career and a devastating loss he’s tried hard to bury. Julie, an angsty teen struggling with addiction, is a painful reminder of his past life. But she also provides heartfelt encouragement when he needs it the most, forcing him to consider what he will gain if he just gives in.
As the piano and trumpets rage on in the vibrant background scenes, where cinematographers Julien Poupard and Eric Gautier capture everything from the street performers to the hustlers, we shift from Elliot to perspectives of other members of the band that stretch across the City of Lights. Each of their chapters also highlights a recurring plotline of the past meeting the present. For instance, trombonist Jude’s (Damian Nueva) reunion with a former love sends him reeling back to his old demons. And a visit from Maja’s mom leaves her questioning her life choices.
This treatment works to both tell their stories and crystallize what really happened with the murder, and ultimately The Eddy becomes a piece that is much more than its murder mystery plot. It’s not just about Elliot running around trying to save the livelihood of the club and his employees, though that is certainly a threaded narrative. It interrogates the price you are willing to pay to devote all your energy to a case that may not end with a satisfying result. The murder, as awful as it is, serves as an impetus for Elliot and all the characters to reevaluate their objectives — both personally and professionally.
There’s a wonderful party scene towards the center of the series where Elliot, nearly reduced to a shell of himself and racked with guilt, shares an intimate story that illuminates the overwhelming sorrow that engulfs him. It helps bring friend Amira (Leila Bekhti), who’s grappling with her own recent loss, and the entire band back together again. It’s also one of the few scenes with Elliot that’s not focused on the criminal underbelly and the stakes of the club but the family that this ragtag group of people, all living on the edges of an otherwise thriving society, have formed.
As laborious as it may sound to spotlight various storylines, which always runs the risk of shortchanging others, The Eddy manages to keep you invested while Elliot anchors the story. That is helped by thoughtful performances especially by Holland and Bekhti as well as the rest of the cast, some of whom are actual musicians. Chazelle magnificently weaves a story bursting with life, tragedy, and hope among nighttime entertainers otherwise unseen in the light of day. Though closure for the murder victim never quite feels gratifying, we are left with something much more significant.
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
The Eddy premieres Friday, May 8 on Netflix.