The Get Down: Parts 1 & 2 Review
The Get Down Part 2, which released last week on Netflix, is a continuation of season one rather than a new season. Therefore, this review will be a spoiler-free discussion of the new episodes and as well as last year's Part One.
The time is the late 1970s. The place, the Bronx, New York. Racial and class tension had rarely been manifested to such extents as they are here, with buildings burning down nightly, power outages creating hysteria and riots, spikes in crime and looting, and rampant drug abuse and gang violence. But in these streets, littered with crumbled ruins like a war-torn city, a revolutionary new culture was blossoming. Disco did not yet know it was dying, but hip hop was rising from the ashes like a phoenix.
Netflix's epic music drama The Get Down uses this infinitely intriguing setting as the backdrop for a utterly massive tale of ambition, corruption, family, and love. In fact, the graffiti-plastered city is almost a character itself, every facet of its complexity affecting the diaspora of characters. Creator Baz Luhrmann, who's made a name for himself with over-indulgent fantasies, brings the booming liveliness of this dying city to the small screen with astonishing energy and heart.
The main protagonist is Ezekiel, an intelligent poet who is recruited by the fledgling DJ Shaolin Fantastic to be the wordsmith of the Get Down Brothers, a crew not unlike the real-life Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. With wise Ezekiel, passionate Shaolin, and three brothers -- the pragmatic Ra-Ra, wild child Boo-Boo, and spaced-out graffiti artist Dizzee -- the group electrifies crowds and helps kickstart the sonic sensation in the streets of the Bronx, completely unaware that their genre would soon be a cultural powerhouse.
As the season progresses, each boy gets their own story arc, but they're just part of what makes The Get Down special. There's a huge range of characters including: Mylene, Ezekiel's girlfriend whose potential to be the next Donna Summers is bogged down by her controlling, pastor father; Francisco "Papa Fuerte" Cruz, a corrupt city councilman with a vision of improving life for the people of the Bronx; and Cadillac, the son of crime boss Fat Annie whose adoration of disco immediately puts him at odds with fellow drug hustler and hip hop advocate Shaolin.
Credit should be given to how well Luhrmann and the show's writers make each of these characters compelling. Ezekiel is constantly forced to choose between his love of music and the chance at going to college, and his best friend Shaolin's connections with crime put him on the defensive against his crew members. Meanwhile, Mylene struggles with the constant temptation to sell out for fame and faces a delicate balancing act between her career and her relationship with Ezekiel. Papa Fuerte acts as a big-picture allegory: is breaking the rules morally acceptable if it's for the betterment of society?
The character dynamics are interesting, but some of the plots turn overly melodramatic, especially as the series struggles to neatly tie up its labyrinthine plots in the final episodes. Also, Fat Annie and Cadillac are pretty ludicrous villains, even though Cadillac's Saturday Night Fever aesthetic is alluring and oftentimes amusing. The real star, though, is Shaolin. Even though he's originally portrayed as a strange, martial arts-loving DJ, he's revealed as a compassionate character desperate to belong to a family.
But the real reason to get down with The Get Down is the music and style. Luhrmann transplants his regal vision into disco and hip hop fever, with incredible costumes and hair, phenomenal song and dance scenes, and infectious music. Featuring three real hip-hop legends -- Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa -- as near-mythological figures, the show's aesthetic is one of dazzling disbelief. Sometimes, that goes too far: the animated scenes in Part 2 are gimmicky messes, one of which actually removes all the poignancy from a big late-game reveal.
The partly rushed, partly cathartic finale is yet another divisive segment of a show that succeeds even with several missteps and fundamental flaws. Don't go in expecting a completely informative look at the history of hip hop, or a perfectly crafted narrative. But with compelling characters, a nearly unmatched sense of style from an era oozing with it, and funky music from a bygone time, The Get Down is everything but whack.