One thing I’ve been wondering about High Fidelity is how much Rob actually cares about running a record store. She bought Championship Vinyl and dropped out of college in the midst of the Great Recession. The store seems to do minimal business, but this is a story about Rob and her friends and lovers, not Rob and her customers. There’s no doubt Rob loves music, but does she want to run the shop for the next ten months, let alone the next ten years?
The events of “Uptown” test this question by presenting Rob with a dare-to-be-great situation (my apologies to Lloyd Dobler), providing a welcome detour into using Rob’s career as a different lens on her overall existential crisis.
Rob, Simon, Cherise, and frequent customer Louis are enjoying a low-stakes, high-bravado game of Top Five, selecting and defending their top five villains of all time. The rankings and arguments about them are about what you’d expect: questions about the definition of villainy, distinctions between villains and antiheroes, exclusions for actual historical baddies.
While Simon and Cherise each work up a righteous head of steam about whether an antihero is a protagonist or a villain, Rob is intrigued by a caller looking to sell a private record collection. The only problem is, the seller is on the Upper West Side and if Rob makes a purchase, she doesn’t want to schlep the records back to Brooklyn on the subway. Who does she know who has a car?
Guys, remember Clyde? We haven’t seen him since “Top Five Heartbreaks,” so now seems like a good moment to reflect on the actor portraying him. Jake Lacy has made a solid career playing guys who could be charming, decent fellows or who might just as easily have unplumbed depths of rancid squirreliness. He was Jenny Slate’s courtly love interest in Obvious Child, and was also the guy who Ramy’s sister Dena declined to have sex with after it became clear that he was into her for creepy orientalism reasons. All of which is to say, I’ve been very curious to know what direction the show is going to take him in now that he’s back.
Good news! He gets to be funny, sweet, perceptive, and remarkably game for the favor Rob is trying to disguise as an impromptu date, which winds up turning into an impromptu date along the way, anyway. Like Simon and Cherise, Clyde is exactly the kind of person Rob needs in her life: someone who will cut through her meandering thickets of over-explanations and agree immediately to schlep her from one borough to another.
The adventure starts inauspiciously — Clyde’s car tunes come courtesy of the Grateful Dead and he unironically enjoys doing touristy things like going to the top of the Empire State Building — but proves invaluable once they get to the residence of the collection-seller. It’s Parker Posey, but it’s not just Parker Posey. It’s Parker Posey at her Posey-est, leaning smoothly and deeply into what I am convinced is a reprise of her character Patricia from You’ve Got Mail, only now she goes by Noreen. She maintains all of Patricia’s weird wealth-and-privilege assumptions, but time and genuine heartbreak have given her a bit more self-awareness and a deliciously wicked sense of humor.
Noreen wants to sell her no-good cheating husband’s amazing record collection. Not piece by piece, but wholesale, all several thousand beautifully maintained records, for the lordly sum of a crisp $20, which she will frame and place in the center of the room for the philandering collector to see when he comes by to pick up his remaining belongings. By undoing and very literally devaluing his decades-long labor of love after he’s turned his back on their life together, it’ll be the masterpiece of her artistic genre, “to create art out of the ashes of my personal tragedies.”
Other examples, found throughout the house, include a life-sized pony made out of the stuffed animals she wasn’t permitted to have in childhood due to her allergies, busts of her mother studded with pills, and the wrecked Beemer she received as a birthday gift (in which she also lost her virginity to Matthew Barney), and finally, her bangs, suspended at forehead height in a huge display vitrine. It is my fervent hope that Posey improvised these examples with episode writers Kravitz and E.T. Feigenbaum, and that the set production team made her hilarious, unsettling whimsies real.
Rob negotiates some extra time, planning to ghost Noreen, rationalizing to Clyde that perhaps the cheating husband’s goodness in other areas balances out the shittiness of his cheating. Clyde is baffled, and I suspect Rob is bullshitting here in part because buying this collection would be a huge commitment to being a professional, official record store owner.
Knowing that Noreen’s erstwhile husband is at the Carlyle Hotel, they pop across town to suss out for themselves whether he deserves to have his collection bought out from under him for $20. Clyde is fascinated by the hotel bar’s decor, marveling at the unique wallpaper, and uses his curiosity about it as a gambit to start a conversation with the philandering collector. No one could do justice to this role better than Jeffrey Nordling, in a baroque, turned-up-to-11 version of his role as Laura Dern’s husband in Big Little Lies. His entire performance seems to say, “Oh, you thought Gordon Klein was bad? Well, get a load of this guy! He has everything: a midlife crisis ponytail! An incoherent mess of accessories! An affinity for James Bond’s signature cocktail from Casino Royale! A perpetual boner for the sound of his own voice! A goddamned pinkie ring!”
It turns out the bar they’re in and the murals on its walls are part of a classic New York institution, Bemelmans, named for the famed writer and illustrator of the Madeline series of picture books, Ludwig Bemelmans. Honestly, if some enterprising person doesn’t create a daylong High Fidelity Tour featuring frosé, record shopping, and drinks at Bemelmans, what even are we here for? Don’t leave these good nerdy tourist dollars on the table!
Anyway, The Terrible Collector is talking Clyde’s ear off and will not let Rob get a single well-informed word in edgewise about the musicians who’ve played at the bar over the years. He simply insists that Clyde listen to the classic 1984 album Wings Over America. Clyde gamely tries to give Rob an opening into the conversation, but The Terrible Collector steamrolls right over him.
Eventually, Rob can’t stand being sidelined anymore and chimes in to say that Wings Over America was released in 1976, not 1984, then launches into a crisp little monologue that reveals the depth of her ungainsayable expertise. Clyde grins with affection and admiration while The Terrible Tool cautions him that Rob’s bravura “firecracker” performance gets old quickly. Maybe to you, pal!
In spite of this experience, Rob still can’t bring herself to buy the collection, and also can’t understand why she sided with the unambiguous, everything short of moustache-twirling bad guy. Clyde suggests that “it seemed like you were thinking if they can take away this guy’s records just because he sucks and made some bad decisions, when are they coming for mine?”
As Clyde drops off Rob — following a car ride home full of good laughs and easy chemistry — it turns out he pulled one hell of a move, having left $20 behind and smuggling out the rare pressing of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World (currently fetching prices over $1100 on the Internet record emporium Discogs) as a gift for her.
“Uptown” makes a case for High Fidelity as a show about one woman figuring out what kind of person she wants to be, a question we all have to face. The central question of the show isn’t the same as Movie Rob’s stricken cri de coeur, “did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Music improves Show Rob’s life. It’s a core part of her identity, but it’s not primarily a tool to keep people out. She’s hungry for connection — that’s why she jumped at the chance to talk with Clyde about Fleetwood Mac in “Top Five Heartbreaks,” and why she kept trying to join in a conversation with the monologuing Terrible Collector. Clyde’s theft of the Bowie record acknowledges Rob’s love of music as a connector. He sees her, and it’s lovely.
After exchanging some very cute, smoldery looks, Rob hops out of the car, prompting Clyde to wonder aloud what the fuck just happened, and Rob, curbside, to do the same. Rob, that boy likes you. It seems that you like him. Here’s how you can test that hypothesis: spend some more time together, and see how it goes? Maybe kiss each other? Play him that Bowie record? You have options, so try one!
1) Song of the Episode: Vivaldi’s Spring, which just keeps aggressively playing and signifying fanciness, wealth, and taste throughout the scene in Parker Posey’s Upper West Side townhouse.
2) The liquid nitrogen coldness of Clyde’s delivery of “That’s a flawless Jagger” could frost a thousand martini glasses. Bravo!
3) Is this scene a sly shout-out to Clueless? Rob’s pleated mini is the same style as Cher’s iconic yellow plaid mini, while her “well, actually”-ing is reminiscent of Cher’s backseat Hamlet-splaining.