Hulu's adaptation of High Fidelity is a curious love letter to send on Valentine's Day. As fans of Nick Hornby's 1995 novel or the 2000 movie starring John Cusack already know, the narrative follows Rob, a record shop owner who can't see that his neuroses — like his obsession for cataloging music — are ruining his relationships. Considering that High Fidelity is a lampoon of the Nice Guy (™), it seemed an odd project for Hulu to gender swap, but the 10 episode series, now streaming on Hulu, stars Zoe Kravitz in what may be her most captivating role.
When we meet Rob in both the novel and the movie, he's deep in the midst of wallowing over his most devastating breakup yet. There's almost an instant connection to the character; Rob is an obvious mess, not just in this post breakup period, but in life. But as Rob narrates the various tragedies he's soldiered through, his words never quite match up with his actions. In his mind, Rob is someone who deserves love and can't be blamed when it sours. In reality, Rob is someone who can't really see women he's interested in as people, and thinks of dating and romance as something he should be keeping score of. It's only when Rob really reckons with himself and realizes he's the reason all his romantic overtures ultimately fail, that he can embark on a sincere romantic journey. At its best High Fidelity is a joyful takedown of toxic masculinity set to a killer soundtrack. At worst, it could be seen as glorifying the very traits it wants to satirize, considering Rob was hailed as a Gen X hero by many.
With Kravitz stepping into the role of Rob, now a queer black woman who owns a record store in Brooklyn, High Fidelity becomes a much more sincere project. By the very nature of the generational shift to millennials — and the change in leads — Hulu's adaptation has nary an ironic bone in sight (a fact beautifully reflected in the expressive soundtrack, curated by the one and only Questlove). This will, of course, be off-putting to a lot of fans of the original, considering how solidly one haplessly cruel man became so entrenched in pop culture. But in not trying to re-explore territory that's been thoroughly trod, Kravitz's Rob becomes a study in burnout, stagnation, and mental health. High Fidelity is a millennial show that deals in millennial problems, and Rob is no longer asking why is this happening to me? but rather why am I like this?
The narrative itself starts off exactly the same, with Rob in the midst of a breakup, and then a year later she is still trying to move on. The one that got away, Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir), is back in Brooklyn with a new fiancée he met in London. Rob, naturally, cannot handle herself when she sees him again. Episode by episode, Kravitz rips apart Rob's effortless cool girl persona and reveals the heart of a woman who was so scared by happiness, she did everything she could to bring herself back to the way she normally feels. Unsure and unable to take a step towards someone who only has open arms for her, Rob returns to chasing temporary pleasures, because at least she knows how to deal with those emotions.
Make no mistake, while High Fidelity makes you feel for Rob, the series never lets her off the hook in the way Cusack sailed through most of his encounters in the movie. This is largely due to a supporting cast that never allows the audience to think of them as secondary characters. Rob's employees at Championship Vinyl — Simon (David H. Holmes), Rob's ex who is now out and dating men, and Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), an aspiring musician with a fiery take for every situation — are family, the people Rob is actually accountable to. In scenes featuring the three of them, as well as scenes with Rob's brother, High Fidelity makes it clear that Rob's problems in love are equally affecting her platonic relationships. Unlike her Top 5 (or her recent hookups), her friends and family are the characters who actually challenge her to grow. It's in the small moments when Rob remembers she can, in fact, put other people first — even in the depths of her depression, anxiety, and selfishness — that she inches towards being the kind of woman she wants to be.
Unfortunately, that realization comes far too late to salvage most of the damage Rob has done, particularly with Clyde (Jake Lacy), the genuinely nice guy with a weird side who she's been half-heartedly dating after her ex. (Her other hookup of the series is a hot Irish singer, which is a gender-swapped version of the role Kravitz's mother, Lisa Bonet, played in the 2002 movie.) The reveal of what went wrong in Rob and Mac's relationship, and Rob's eventual realization that she needs to show up for the people in her life, happens quite late in the season, making Season 1 of the series feel like a prelude to a much larger story. The stage is set for Season 2 to be a banger, with Rob finally putting into action all the lessons she painfully accumulates over the first season. And perhaps, in the most millennial fashion of all, the biggest victory is that Rob finds something within herself that allows her to get out of bed the next morning and try again.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
All 10 episodes of High Fidelity are now streaming on Hulu.