Netflix’s Spotify drama The Playlist: TV review

While they’ve inspired such gratifying exaggerations as FX’s “Devs” and Apple’s “Mythic Quest,” the inner workings of the real-world tech space have been largely viewed as taboo by producers. An increased risk of litigation is undoubtedly one reason; Likewise, 24/7 coding is rarely the most compelling viewer sport, no matter how hard you beat the electronica you’ve tuned it to. Additionally, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 feature film The Social Network set the bar stratospherically high about the turbulent emergence of Facebook.

‘Wallander’ producers Yellow Bird believe they’ll be in ‘The Playlist’, a six-part Netflix mini-series centered around the Swedish success story Spotify, the streaming platform that revolutionized music listening and made Neil Young’s minds understandable , told a comparably gripping story. Dramatizing competing narratives from the pages of Sven Carlsson and Jonas Leijonhufvud’s non-fiction compendium Spotify Untold, the show posits that with this app a lot depends on who you’re listening to – even if everything sounds very authoritative after a while.

We get the back story in the opening part, The Vision, which introduces us to Spotify founder Daniel Ek as he was in 2004. Pale, bald and socially awkward, this Ek (Edvin Endre) is a neurotic humble misfit who remembers record-breaking hipsters scoff when he used coins to buy an Aretha Franklin CD for his beloved mother. As his voiceover puts it with a not atypical lack of irony and self-confidence: “Nobody should have that kind of power over music.”

Like The Social Network’s Mark Zuckerberg, the show’s Ek is fueled by rejection – not by a girl, but by Google, who pushes him to walk the billion-dollar middle ground between pre-existing corporate control and the torrent of The Pirate Bay into to take sight -led rearrangement. On the one hand, he solves a pressing problem – how to pull the music industry into the digital age – but his hastily executed solution has unforeseen consequences. These will be detailed over the course of subsequent episodes, which alternate between story streams in a manner that appears largely analogous to the platform’s own MO.

Episode two dramatizes the industry reaction and introduces music executive Per Sundin (Ulf Stenberg), a man trying to protect the remains of an ever-diminishing pie instantly marked by his living room jukebox. Later episodes send in the lawyers and money men; also disaffected programmer Andreas Ehn (Joel Lützow) who installs algorithms to gain a control over girls he can’t gain in an episode that comes as close as The Playlist to The Social Network; and finally musician and single mother Bobbi T (Janice Kamya Kavander), through whom the show can address some of the resistance.

On the surface, it all turns out to be a classic 21st-century adult streaming option: unscrupulously impartial, it distributes its research via functional mini-arcs that teach everyone that collaboration is better than constantly butting heads. Visually, it’s designed as a lookbook of the latest trends in hot-desking and hub design; and the soundtrack is inevitably rich in resources, from Amerie’s “Gotta Work” to the arguably lesser performance of the Hallelujah chorus. (Norwegian director Per-Olav Sørensen is also required under Swedish law to fire an ace of base.)

What’s missing – and that becomes noticeable as the series progresses – is something akin to the electric thrills of the Fincher film. “The Playlist” falls squarely into the executive-level drama category, another of those recent programming decisions that the suits were certainly quick to give the green light for, given its ties to the corporate politics at play. The final two episodes begin to unravel the complex interpersonal conflict Sorkin and Fincher ran with, but until then it’s mostly a matter of paperwork; Although these negotiations have been simplified for a Netflix audience, the first half may only appeal to viewers trained in copyright law.

In retrospect, even the narrative handover seems to be primarily the signatures of the many interested parties who had to sign off on the finished product. So we get 40-minute windows — the length of time in an average meeting — with composite characters that seem forever more important to the positions they occupy than to who they are as people. These are carefully negotiated deals, where nothing should bother Spotify’s actual lawyers, but there’s never anything quite as exciting on screen as finding a playlist tailored to your specific partying needs.

Only twice does the music take itself to a narrative level: once when penniless Ek steals a Gavin DeGraw track to drown out a noisy neighbor, and most recently when Bobbi T’s plaintive track “Tomorrow Is My Turn” appeals to broader sentiments remain unheard. Too often, in The Playlist, music takes a backseat to how music is managed: how music is cleaned, tidied up, repackaged, and remonetized. That’s also a 21st-century concern, of course, but it makes for a show that feels like opening up Spotify to stream a Coldplay album: admire the production all you want, but it still is too moderately fast to really get the heart rate up.

The Playlist is now streaming on Netflix. A total of six episodes; All six were screened for review.

Development Producer: Luke Franklin. Line Producers: Pierre Stein Bonnet, Igor Nola, Peter Onsmark Producer: Eiffel Mattsson
Cast: Edvin Endre, Gizem Erdogan, Christian Hillborg, Ulf Stenberg, Joel Lutzow, Janice Kamya Kavander Netflix’s Spotify drama The Playlist: TV review

Charles Jones

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