STARRING: Justice Smith, Shameik Moore, Herizen F. Guardiola, Skylan Brooks, T.J Brown Jr., Jaden Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jimmy Smits, Giancarlo Esposito, Mamoudou Athie, Yolonda Ross, Kevin Corrigan, Zabryna Guevara, Daveed Diggs, Lillias White, Barrington Walters Jr., Stefanée Martin, Shyrley Rodriguez, Tory Devon Smith, Qaasim Middleton and Eric D. Hill Jr.
A ragtag group of teenagers run wild in the streets of the Bronx in the late 1970s.
The Get Down takes us back to the late 1970’s in New York City, focusing on a group of teenagers from the South Bronx who try to change their lives for the better. We follow a young woman trying to make a name for herself as a disco singer and a group of young men trying to tell their lives through music in hip-hop.
After the explosive response to their last series Stranger Things, Over the weekend Netflix released a six episode batch of their new series The Get Down from Baz Luhrmann. Yes, the first season is meant to contain twelve episodes, but we’re only getting six now and the other six will follow sometime in 2017. The case could be made for the reasoning behind this is due to the troubled production over the two-and-a-half-years since the project was greenlit by Netflix, from production stalling several times, changing showrunners (Shawn Ryan was the original showrunner when the project was greenlit) and scripts being written/rewritten to the point that some of the writers created an inside joke on set in calling the show ‘The Shut Down’. Media sources even claim that The Get Down will end up being the most expensive show ever made, with every episode costing a budget of about $7.5m, New York state tax incentives playing a major factor in the cost.
The Get Down has got two major factors working in the shows favour. The first is the overall casting of the young actors for the most part is pretty much spot-on. Justice Smith is great as the lead character Zeke, bringing an authentic quality and vulnerability to the character that felt real and committed throughout the first part of the first season. Shameik Moore stood out last year with his performance in Dope as a reserved Malcolm, here however he’s full of energy and charisma as Shaolin Fantastic, the small-time gangster turned wannabe-DJ. While these two will receive praise for their roles, Herizen F. Guardiola’s star will shine brightly with her performance and singing voice as Myelene, the daughter of a Pastor who dreams of being a disco star. The rest of the supporting cast are solid and some I wish had more screen time than others, particularly Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s character Cadillac….maybe in the second half of season 1 perhaps. The second thing is the music itself. There’s a lot of sound editing/mixing going on in The Get Down and while some of it may not pay off (for example in some episodes there will be different variations of music occurring then they’ll be mashed together over the various situations of dread/triumph the characters are facing), it makes the show come alive for me and be riveted by the creative process going into the art-form (understand the need of the purple crayon young grasshopper). The show has a real authentic quality to its surroundings of 70’s New York, from the clothes, to the nightclubs, the graffiti and social context that plagues the citizens of the Bronx especially.
The problem with The Get Down for me is when it focuses on Zeke’s and Mylene’s personal journeys and the music, it’s interesting and engaging, the other plots outside of that haven’t captured me with the same amount of interest. Shaolin’s scenes whenever he’s involved with Lillias White’s Fat Annie feels too theatrical for my liking (Something too theatrical in a Baz Luhrmann project? No way I hear some of you say!) and though the older cast members provide really good performances, some of their arcs as well just aren’t that engaging for me either. Jimmy Smits’ political head Papa Fuerte comes across as a shady man that will do what is necessary to do what is right for the people that the city has failed, yet is seeming to be heading into this love triangle arc for the second part of the first season when that returns in the new year that doesn’t interest me in the slightest, while Giancarlo Esposito’s Pastor has a big role in the opening episodes he feels sidelined come the last few while his wife played by Zabryna Guevara comes into her own arc. It could also be a case of only getting half a season of a show may actually hurt the storylines as some of them are resolved as a chapter while others begin just before we can get emotionally invested in them to see what happens next when the rest of the season is released in the New Year. The first episode will come across as overlong with not much really happening and for me it is the worst episode out of the six and thankfully the sixth episode ended up being my favourite as it had some major payoff for me to bring me back for the second half of episodes. I know a few people might find the episode openings of a grown up Zeke (played by Daveed Diggs/Dubbed by Nas) narrating what previously occurred and view it as a ‘dumbing down’ for the audience but I find the dubbing more distracting than anything.
Slightly messy yet engaging at the same time. When it focuses on the music, especially on the hip-hop side of things – it’s gold, when it focuses on gangsters, politics and love triangles, it feels melodramatic at the best of times. The Get Down has an authentic quality to it with Luhrmann stamping his style on it but it’s the performances from the core trio, Justice Smith, Shameik Moore and Herizen F. Guardiola that will keep me coming back for more. 7/10