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March 12, 2020

Top 5 Reasons Why We Need More Series Like 'High Fidelity'

By making Rob a woman, the series makes a statement that a woman can thrive even in a historically masculine space.

by Binky Bee

Back in 2000, I went on a double date and saw High Fidelity the movie, with John Cusack as Rob Gordon - the Chicago record shop owner who, despite his impeccable taste in music, couldn’t seem to get his personal life together. As he tracked down the exes that he had listed in his Top 5 Heartbreaks Of All Time to figure out what went wrong after his last relationship ended, my date turned to me and said, “He is so you. You are Rob Gordon.”

So it’s no surprise when almost 20 years later  I was more than a little curious to watch Hulu’s High Fidelity, which is adapted from both the John Cusack movie and the Nick Hornby novel, after accidentally stumbling upon the trailer on YouTube. The fact that they gender-swapped Cusack’s character to a woman and cast Zoë Kravitz in the role piqued my interest even further. For someone who was once called the female Rob Gordon, I liked the idea that the female Rob Gordon looks like Zoë Kravitz, who can be both effortlessly cool and insecure without seeming like a poser.

To this day, Hulu has yet to stream in Indonesia so you probably have to use some nefarious means to be able to watch this series (which I won’t recommend for legal reasons). For now, like the female Rob Gordon that I will always be, I’ll just leave you with my Top Five Reasons Why (I think) We Need More Series Like High Fidelity, and it’s not just because Kravitz needs to be in more things (she needs to be in all the things, all the time if I have my say on it).

  1. Rob Gordon makes way more sense as a woman than a man, at least in this day and age.

When co-creators Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka decided to switch the gender and make Rob a woman, they inadvertently made all the things that were annoying and grating about Cusack’s Rob much more forgivable. We are so used to men imposing their opinions on everyone and we’re getting tired of it. Kravitz as Female Rob has her opinions and is eager to tell you why, but she is less judgmental and less imposing, probably because women just know how to communicate better. If they hadn’t gender-switched Rob Gordon and cast someone like say, Miles Teller in the role, I doubt anyone would even find this series appealing.

  1. They actually give Rob Gordon a worthy alternative to her fixation with her ex.

Aside from the gender-swapping, one thing this series did that deviated from the source material, was giving Rob a worthy alternative to her fixation with her ex. Right from the first episode, Rob goes on a blind date with Clyde and decides to give him a chance after they bond over Fleetwood Mac, a chance that grows into a casual dating situation even though it’s clear Clyde wants more. Despite Clyde only being a rebound guy (at least according to Rob), he proves that he has staying power, and we’re left actually hoping that Rob would just get over Mac and date Clyde for real.

  1. They also gender-swapped the iconic Jack Black character Barry into Cherise (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and she made her even more iconic.

I love Jack Black in the 2000 movie. It truly was a breakout role for him and his character Barry was pretty iconic. But you can’t watch the 2020 version of High Fidelity without falling in love with Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s Cherise, from the moment she walked into Rob’s record store, plugged her iPhone into the sound system and blasted “Come On Eileen”. Like, you just can’t. She is, just like the song she blasted, “Dope as Sh*t”. Every episode, Cherise not only appears as a comic relief, but also as the loud, brazen, voice of reason even when she rarely makes much sense.

  1. The soundtrack is heaven for music lovers, and can serve as musical education for everyone else.

You can’t remake High Fidelity as a TV series and not jam-pack every episode with some of the best music that’s ever been made. The great thing about this update is that, 20 years later, the world has changed dramatically and this world we live in now is a lot more diverse, even musically. From Outkast to Frank Ocean, from Bowie to Nina Simone, pretty much everyone who’s ever made good music appears in the soundtrack. Not only does this version feel more inclusive, it also introduces even people like me to sounds I haven’t heard before.

And, finally, the number one reason why we need more series like High Fidelity:

  1. “It’s so badass for you to not only occupy but freaking own such a historically masculine space.”

This line was said by a woman Rob meets in a party at her ex-girlfriend’s place, and I think that one line perfectly captures why we need more series like this. As many other critics have pointed out in their reviews, music culture has always been predominantly male and white. You rarely, if ever, see a woman being depicted as a record store owner in TV series or movies. Record store owners, record producers, music critics, even A&R people are roles usually designated to men. But High Fidelity did a good job in making what’s a historically masculine space into just a space that both male and female can occupy.

Gender-swapping male roles in movies and TV shows has not always worked, and it’s not just because of the internet’s toxic masculinity. Mostly it doesn’t work because there’s really no point in swapping the roles. Turning the Mel Gibson role into a woman in What Men Want does not make sense because women don’t really care about what men want. We all know what men want, they are not that complicated. Making the Oceans team all women doesn’t really do anything for equality, since the Oceans franchise was just George Clooney’s excuse to hang out with his buddies and get paid millions of dollars doing it in the first place. It makes no statement and doesn’t prove anything.

By making Rob a woman, it doesn’t only make the statement that a woman can thrive even in a historically masculine space, but also that women are allowed to be just as messy, just as lacking in self-awareness, just as self-absorbed as men. We’re all still figuring things out, and it really is okay… as long as you look cute doing it.

(I’m kidding about that last part.)

Binky Bee is an author, freelance copywriter and a self-professed TV junkie. When she's not working, writing or watching TV, she's usually taking care of her four cats and (now) one dog, or stealthily creeping on celebrities on Instagram. Binky Bee lives in Jakarta, Indonesia but dreams of moving to Montreal soon so she can get universal healthcare.