The Show That Actually Understands Modern Romance

Unlike other rom-com reboots that prioritize feel-good nostalgia, Hulu’s High Fidelity takes the time to examine the messiness of dating today.

When Hulu announced that it would be rebooting High Fidelity with a biracial female lead, the show seemed likely to follow the original plot. (Phillip Caruso)

The final scene of Hulu’s High Fidelity seems poised to play out a classic rom-com moment: The lonely record-store owner Robin, a.k.a. “Rob” (played by Zoë Kravitz), shows up at the apartment of her love interest, Clyde (Jake Lacy), who’s been avoiding her calls since a falling-out a few episodes back. The inevitable seems to be coming: She’ll confess her feelings, he’ll accept them, and they’ll be together.

But none of that happens. She doesn’t propose a relationship—just a friendship. “Look, I’ve been figuring out a lot of stuff, I think,” she says. “Stuff like how to stop living in the past and how to stop taking shit for granted and people for granted and how to stop being such an asshole. I was hoping that we could just, you know, start fresh.” He turns her down, at first, but eventually concedes there’s a slim chance they could be friends again.

The original High Fidelity—the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel starring John Cusack as Rob—didn’t end ambiguously. After a sweet speech about commitment, Rob wins back his ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle). The final scene shows Rob making a new mixtape for her, a moment that leaves the audience with the warm fuzzies expected from a romantic comedy.

When Hulu announced it would be rebooting High Fidelity with a biracial female lead, the show seemed likely to follow the original plot. After all, other such rom-com remakes that alter the protagonist’s gender and race—think the 2019 film What Men Want and Hulu’s series Four Weddings and a Funeral—had done so. In favor of capitalizing on nostalgia and achieving sentimental highs, both projects preserve the overall arcs of the original works: The lead has a meet-cute with the love interest, they encounter a major bump or two along the way, but they fix said bumps by the end and pair off anyway. The only subversion is cosmetic. Despite their ambitions, both reboots felt beholden to their original versions, depicting dating from the eras when the first films were released.

Created by Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West, High Fidelity the series not only expands on its original premise, but it also captures the nuance of Millennial dating by upending the tidiness of the original plot. Yes, Robin ends her first season alone, but the last moments—during which she learns to embrace her singleness, her flaws, and herself—feel just as tender and uplifting as any rom-com finale.

Recent reboots have updated the optics, but overlooked how present-day circumstances can deeply affect a character. (Phillip Caruso)

The series may conclude differently, but it never loses the spirit of the film. Take Robin’s post-breakup habits, for example. Like Cusack’s Rob, she mourns at home after being dumped by Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir), delivers angry asides to the camera, and gripes about pop music and misery. But while film Rob’s angst led him to imagine Laura having sex with her new partner, Ian (Tim Robbins), TV Rob doesn’t have to depend on her imagination: She can use social media to stalk Mac’s new girlfriend, Lily (Dana Drori). One episode follows her scrolling through Lily’s feed, baffled at her posts of sunsets and frosés, in search of a shot of Lily’s face.

Social media pops up throughout the series, emphasizing the ways in which a breakup can feel oppressive. When Robin visits her ex-girlfriend, the Instagram influencer Kat (Ivanna Sakhno)—in the film, she was the stylish cool girl Charlie, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones—Robin’s surrounded by people judging her for her clothes, her career, and her love life. When Robin makes a last-minute decision to celebrate her 30th birthday party with two acquaintances, she enviously watches a larger group of partygoers singing the birthday song. Her friend, noticing this, immediately starts singing as well and filming Robin for her reaction. Grieving a breakup, the show understands, feels so much harder in the time of social media.

Recent reboots have updated the optics, but overlooked how present-day circumstances can deeply affect a character. Both What Men Want and Four Weddings and a Funeral take into account modern technology’s impact on dating through jokes and, in the case of the latter, texts shown on-screen. But the plots follow the same emotional beats as the films on which they’re based. As a result, they feel trapped in an alternate reality where people still show up at doorsteps unannounced and know nothing of one another’s lives unless they’re interacting in person. Meet-cutes and happily-ever-afters are adorable, but such generic rom-com plotting feels out of touch.

Hulu’s High Fidelity, however, successfully reflects modern dating in terms of the evolution of courtship and commitment. During the course of the series, Robin isn’t sure how to define any of her romantic relationships beyond her previous one. After she sleeps with the rising rock star Liam (Thomas Doherty), he continues to ask her to see him, even inviting her on a trip, and the two enter into a will-they-won’t-they that ends in … maybe. The film’s Liam equivalent, the singer Marie De Salle (played by Kravitz’s mother, Lisa Bonet), disappears after her night with Rob, making her officially a one-night stand and nothing more. Relationships were clear-cut; now, the show posits, they’re much harder to define. For a rom-com to leave such a relationship unclear could come off as frustrating; instead, it rings true.

Amid all this, the series examines the way Robin’s gender affects her relationships’ power dynamics—a step forward from previous rebooted rom-coms that make the same change, but often do so in ways that feel facile. (What Men Want featured Taraji P. Henson as a successful sports agent surrounded by male colleagues who discount her abilities, but it didn’t inspect how her career-oriented attitude affected the way she considered romantic partners.) High Fidelity, the film, implied that Rob felt emasculated and insecure about his stagnant career in relation to Laura’s more impressive work as a lawyer; it’s why he lashed out and seethed after she chose to leave, and later chased Marie as a one-night stand.

Robin also felt troubled by her relationship, because she always saw Mac as too good for her. In their breakup scene, she quietly sobs as he takes off, and as happy as she is to have slept with Liam, their night together doesn’t reassure her that she’s ready for a relationship. The series’s writers interpreted the character in terms of how a woman in Rob’s position would likely respond. On the outside, Robin doesn’t want to seem like the “clingy” or “crazy” ex, so she tempers her reactions and saves her bitterness for her asides to the camera. It’s a distinction that this remake deftly underlines: how women’s reactions to a breakup can be easily stereotyped.

In that sense, High Fidelity doesn’t just focus on the new realities of dating; it also focuses on the ways in which Robin’s gender makes her approach relationships differently than her predecessor did—choices that help the series justify the existence of rebooted and gender-flipped rom-coms. In other words, it’s a worthwhile remix.