You’ll Like It If You Already Like: Smash, Rise, La La Land, This Is Us…
Likely timeslot: Somewhere midseason with a limited run
UPDATE: Despite being an internal favorite and having support among network executives, Mixtape missed the cut for a series order and was taken taken out to streamers immediately. Netflix bought it and gave it a 10-episode order for a 2019 launch. It was the second project at Netflix for the company Annapurna, which also had the Coen brothers anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It was also the third broadcast pilot to get a series order by Netflix after being passed over by its original network, others were Insatiable (originally at the CW) and sitcom All About the Washingtons (originally at ABC). The majority of the cast of the Fox pilot was kept just hours before their options were set to expire, except for the male lead, Raul Castillo, replaced by Paul James for reasons that were not made public.
“Every Song Is A Love Song“. That’s with those words that Mixtape starts… and ends. And a very beautiful and emotional demonstration ensues from our hero Sam. I’m not gonna lie and there’s no suspense anyway if you’ve seen those 5 stars up there: I fell in love with this script as you fall in love with a song. So everything in this review will only be displays of affection. I will keep it short, by the way. I hate it when songs are too long. But also, I’ll be walking -or more like dancing- on eggs here. There are things that has to be kept secret and I don’t want to spoil any surprise to anybody. That’s part of the reason why it’s so good. You never know where it’s going, like you never know what life is bringing upon you, good or bad. And when you finally get a sense of what’s really going on, you’re just happy to see it play before your eyes. Mixtape is not just another musical drama. At the core, it’s a love letter to music where life burst into songs.
Let me tell you first about the structure of this very unique pilot (and future show). It is broken up into five parts (acts), with every one of them containing one song: Nellie’s Side A, Sam Side A, Nellie Side B, Sam Side B, and finally their mashup; this development illuminates the overarching metaphor that weaves throughout the pilot: music is life, life is music. And there’s a lot of love and loss in between. It’s quite simple and very clever at the same time. I don’t remember anything like it before. Of course, every song expresses the feelings of the character who sings. That’s how we get to know them better, their profound fears, and desires, and pains, and sometimes joys. That’s how every musical works. Every song is a big number, with or without dancers, while life happens. The reference is obviously La La Land. They’re aiming at something as modern and somehow timeless too. Those songs are not originals and not even hits but more like the perfect song for the situation, even if it has to be a lesser known one from a famous or not so famous artist. If the directing is as good as the writing, we’re gonna have a lot of fun my friends, music lovers and others.
The characters happen to be very well-written too and their stories are both intimate and universal, as they should be. Nellie seems to be living the American Dream: she’s beautiful and her hot boyfriend’s band is catapulting into massive stardom. Nothing can get to her, until, on the eve of her third anniversary, fantasizing about being proposed to, her life explodes as her punk boyfriend dumps her. Her own dreams of becoming an artist have derailed along the way. Now, her life turns completely upside down. Meanwhile, Sam, a scrupulous and shattered widower, aspiring songwriter and secret romantic, who has been forced to move into low income housing with his son after his wife’s death, spends his time balancing jobs and fathering his bright-eyed son. He’s helped by his aunt and now neighbour, a warm, pragmatic woman in her fifties that loves him like her own daughter. There’s other women in there: Joanna, a young professional with everything always under control, the most rational person ever, and yet she’s a little guarded, as if always prepared for the worst; and Margot, an actress who carefully controls how she presents herself to the world, but is secretly exhausted by having to do it. All those characters are very human, attractive and appealing, fragile, sometimes shattered, simply beautiful. And that’s all I can say. Just know there’s a twist. It’s also this kind of show.
Again, Mixtape is a love letter to music where life burst into songs. I don’t know if it can be successful, it’s probably too ambitious to become a huge instant hit, but it doesn’t look like a one-hit wonder either. This script is pure beauty and artistry. Those characters need to be heard. Between La La Land & This Is Us, it may be the best thing network television will bring us next year. Prepare your eyes, your ears and your hearts to it!