“What came first, the music or the misery?” asks John Cusack’s Chicago record store owner Rob in the 2000 movie High Fidelity. It’s difficult to separate the two, as yet another of Rob’s relationships goes up in flames, and he wallows in “sad bastard” songs and traces his top 5 breakups to try to figure out exactly what went wrong in his life. Twenty years later, vinyl is back, or still in fashion, and High Fidelity is ripe for a reboot. In the 10-episode series on Hulu, mixtapes are swapped for playlists, Chicago for Brooklyn, and the character of Rob, immortalized both by Cusack and in Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, is now female. Zoë Kravitz enters the fictional world that her mother, Lisa Bonet, inhabited as singer Marie De Salle in the film, but she doesn’t really need the cred. Kravitz ably inhabits the role of Rob (in her first starring series role), who’s set adrift at the end of another long-term relationship, trying to figure out what it is about her that makes everyone leave.
As High Fidelity stretches from a two-hour movie to 10 half-hour episodes, Kravitz’s Rob accomplishes what previous versions could not: She actually becomes a better person. The possibility or inevitable futility of trying to improve oneself is a popular TV show topic these days (as the recently wrapped The Good Place and BoJack Horseman would attest). By bravely showcasing her painful vulnerability, Kravitz makes the unlikely seem possible. Cusack’s Rob, after all, is pretty terrible: He doesn’t exhibit a hint of remorse that his sexual demands led his second girlfriend into a date rape after their breakup, which ruined sex for her for years. He goes into a rage over his recent ex Laura’s new relationship, even though he sleeps with Marie without a second thought. Rob’s loyal-to-a-fault employees eventually thrive without any help from their self-absorbed boss, and he gets Laura back at the end via a combination of convenience and circumstance, but not much growth on his part.
Kravitz’s Rob definitely has her faults, but part of the journey across these episodes shows her actually coming to terms with them, particularly the role she played in her various failed relationships as well as how much she’s ignored her own devoted record store pals. Notably, in episode one, she eventually caves to Cherise’s (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, admirably stepping into Jack Black’s star-making role) sappy ’80s song on her Monday morning mix—though “Come On Eileen” is leagues better than “Walking On Sunshine.” As Rob’s one-time boyfriend who came out after they dated (and occupies number three on the top 5 breakup list), David H. Holmes adds a ton more intrigue to the bland part of Dick; his Simon is now Rob’s best friend and even eventually gets his own episode.
At first, High Fidelity is a strange blend of remake and reboot. Fans of the original may find it jarring to differentiate between the film and television versions, with the return of some lines repeated pretty much word-for-word (“Number five with a bullet” and “We have no customers! I thought that was a bad thing, not a business strategy”). Peter Frampton gets swapped out for Boyz II Men, the problematic Stevie Wonder record a customer wants is replaced by an even more problematic Michael Jackson record, which Rob maintains is redeemed by “Quincy Jones’ horn charts.” Five copies of a Swamp Dog record are sold instead of The Beta Band. Kravitz’s Rob even wears the same Dickies T-shirt that Cusack does. The specter of 2000 hovers so prominently over this new High Fidelity that it threatens to overshadow the whole thing.
Until, miraculously, it doesn’t. Most of that can be credited to the undisputed charms of Kravitz, Holmes, and Randolph, who gel as a cohesive friend unit in a way the original trio never really did. But also, the longer format fortunately enables High Fidelity to expand into other characters and storylines, like Rob’s brother and his wife, who are expecting a baby. A deleted scene from 2000 about a vengeful wife (then, Beverly D’Angelo; here, a typically inspired Parker Posey) who wants to sell off the priceless record-store collection of her cheating husband (Jeffrey Nordling, now in danger of being typecast as a faithless spouse) gets expanded into its own stellar episode as Rob wrestles with the formidable moral quandary. Rob’s meet-again with pretentious ex Kat (Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Charlie in the film) transforms from obnoxious dinner party to hilarious influencer event.
Where Cusack’s Rob exuded charm, Kravitz’s has an actual heart. We get the feeling that this she actually wants to change, not just grab onto some validation for her crappy relationship past. To do that, Kravitz’s Rob is willing to expose some pretty terrible things about herself, and she faces them head-on. Many times she does this by addressing the camera. While this choice also stems from the 2000 movie, now it seems more reminiscent of Fleabag, especially since this show deals with another troubled character trying to come to terms with her past mistakes. Rob is also possibly attempting to craft a new relationship with the nice but not really dynamic Clyde (Jake Lacy); in the High Fidelity world, even the dorky guys have tattoos, and “all white guys love Weezer.” But Rob still hasn’t gotten over the love of her life, Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Mac (back in town with a new girlfriend), and what she did to destroy the magic they had. Meanwhile, she’s ignoring her friends, and by the end of the season, Rob eventually comes to terms with it all, with various levels of success, but in an actually moving effort.
This High Fidelity leaves its doors fairly open for Rob, her friends, and various romantic options still circling around Brooklyn and grappling for what they want out of life. The series sets up myriad intriguing possibilities and wows with enough stellar soundtrack songs and pop culture-laden dialogue (two favorites: “That was like being a woman in a Michael Bay movie” and “Minnie Riperton. Shit”) to keep us on the hook for more. By the final episodes, the previous High Fidelity seems less like a copied original and more like an inspired springboard to enable a more engaging character to improve her life and herself.