High Fidelity’s Excellent Episode on Everyday Mansplaining Still Makes Me Wish for a Second Season
The gender-reversed adaptation of High Fidelity on Hulu is just one of the many female-fronted TV shows axed in 2020. Premiering on Valentine’s Day this year, the series starred Zoë Kravitz was axed in August after a lone season, but it didn’t go down without gifting audiences with a poignant episode on everyday sexism and mansplaining.
The series managed to turn the beloved novel by Nick Hornby, and the movie adaptation with John Cusack, into a modern, feminist epic on love, loss, and of course, music. Created by Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka and executive produced by Kravitz, High Fidelity worked well from a female perspective. It introduced record shop owner Robyn “Rob” Brooks as a biracial, bisexual hot mess of a character. Despite Rob’s self-centered, at times toxic behaviors, audiences couldn’t help but be drawn to her highly relatable incapability to get it together.
Steering clear of focusing on just one romance, the show is at its best when it adds to the existing universe created by Hornby. This is the case with the record collector segment, which didn’t make the cut in the 2000 movie. In the Hulu series, this subplot turns into a commentary on the toxicity of male-dominated environments, as the record collector scene can be. “Uptown,” the episode cowritten by Kravitz herself and E.T. Feigenbaum, is one of the most compelling chapters in the ten-episode run—a workshop on mansplaining, if you will.
This episode sets a change of scenery. Rob gets out of her usual, comfortable Brooklyn neighborhood to brave the Upper West Side—and for a very good reason, too: checking, maybe buying, a rare record collection. The protagonist is in dire need of an adventure after learning that her ex-fiancé is engaged, but she also needs a ride uptown, which is why she calls up awkward date-turned-friend Clyde, played by Jake Lacy.
The unlikely pals meet Noreen, a wealthy, only slightly pretentious artist, a hilarious turn from actress Parker Posey. Eager to get rid of her cheating husband’s records, Noreen offers up his entire vinyl collection for just $20. Before buying these boxes of “unicorn records” at such a ridiculous price, Rob—whose music morals are really steady—wants to make sure the guy truly deserves to be parted from his most cherished possession.
Therefore, Rob and Clyde track down Noreen’s soon-to-be ex-husband Tim at The Carlyle Hotel, known for being a legendary musicians’ haven in NYC. Between the hand-painted walls of the Bemelmans Bar, the episode takes an infuriating turn.
The protagonist soon discovers that Tim, portrayed by Jeffrey Nordling, isn’t only a cheater; he’s also a pompous misogynist. In the excruciating conversation they strike up at the bar, Tim only ever addresses Clyde directly. His “age-inappropriate” girlfriend Sugarbaby is practically silent. Worse yet, Tim doesn’t even bother to introduce her to the two friends.
A vinyl lover, he engages in a conversation with a rather uninterested, inexpert Clyde, who admits Rob is the true music expert. Even then, Tim barely acknowledges Rob is in the room. Their exchange is textbook casual sexism. It perfectly exemplifies the patronizing treatment women are subjected to when trying to sit at the table in most industries.
Tim checks all the boxes of a mansplainer. He interrupts Rob when she attempts to take part in the debate. He repeats a bit of Prince trivia she has just stated, passing it off as his own and completely ignoring Rob’s contributions to the conversation.
Breaking the fourth wall allows Rob to externalize her innermost thoughts during the diminishing exchange. The narration creates a closeness with whoever has been in Rob’s shoes at least once. Statistically, women are more likely to be interrupted than men when speaking in a work environment. A new study also suggests it’s more difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings, with one in five saying they’ve felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls.
Tim finally engages in a one-upping discussion over the release date of a Wings live album, unwilling to admit that Rob knows more than he does. The man uses pet names to address the protagonist, in a cheap attempt to belittle her. The two characters have no prior relationship that might justify the use of terms of endearment. These are only adopted as a form of micro-aggression from an older, white man towards a younger woman of color.
“No, sweet pea, you’re wrong,” Tim says to Rob.
When the protagonist calmly explains why she is right, Tim doesn’t concede, nor does he apologize for his arrogance. He simply goes back to talk to Clyde, treating Rob as the man’s personal property.
“Got yourself quite a little firecracker there, don’t cha, pal?” Tim tells Clyde.
“Listen, a word of advice, it’s all cute now, but it gets old. Fast,” he continues.
Understandably, Clyde is speechless. An ally, he’s on the fence about openly confronting Tim on his sexism. Arguably, he’s wary of not crossing the line between being decent and playing the knight in shining armor, which would further undermine Rob’s agency.
In short, Tim has probably earned Noreen’s revenge. Yet, Rob decides to be the bigger person. She doesn’t take the records, showing the utmost respect for Tim’s passion. She concludes that everyone deserves to be saved by music, even bad people. Fans of the show will find out that Rob might be lenient toward Tim because she, too, has cheated on her partner. She doesn’t feel it’s her place to judge Tim about his private life. Nonetheless, she does make a point of criticizing his very public, blatant misogyny with Clyde and her viewers.
“That was like being a woman in a Michael Bay movie,” Rob says after they leave the bar.
This line encapsulates the energy of the show, leaning on pop culture references and humor to address complex issues. While the ending of High Fidelity is just as effective when reframed as a standalone series finale, it’s a shame the series has been cut short. “Uptown,” however, is a testament to Kravitz’s clever first foray into writing and remains one of the best examples of how to tackle the discourse on gender politics in recent television.
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