Yes, I did say The Get Down is like Glee for Black people, but I really had high hopes from a show by Baz Luhrmann, the same director of Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge, & Great Gatsby. Not to mention it was co-created by acclaimed playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis who wrote such New York City plays like Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and the Pulitzer-winning Between Riverside and Crazy, would seem to be the perfect realist to ground Luhrmann’s fantastic and still very elaborate sets, scores, and over the top acting choices. Don’t forget with musical supervision by Nas and some A&R reps from Def Jam. This sounds like a formula for success that will make Empire look like a community college stage play. The only problem for me is that it’s actually the other way around.
The Get Down chronicles the rise of hip-hop in the burning Bronx of the mid-1970s through the eyes of these Geeks who happen to be on the precipice of this avalanche of the Hip-hop culture. The show is saturated with Star Wars, Comic book, and Kung-Fu references. There’s so much within this show. Maybe it’s the kinetic feel of a young Hip-hop growth and the death of Disco and apparent birth of R&B that makes for a muddled mess, everything is discombobulating and unpleasant in a way. You would hope the mix of cultures would show the true color of reality in the Bronx during such a pivotal time of civil unrest. No, I’m not looking for a pre-BLM moment, but I am looking for a social commentary during a watershed moment in American culture. NOT Jaden Smith translating his incoherent tweets to film. Oftentimes, after all that initial cacophony of ideas and cheeziness, Luhrmann gets somewhere interesting. Romeo + Juliet is probably his most coherent, richly realized work to date, but Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, and even The Get Down has it’s moments.
The Get Down struggles and fails to really locate itself, because nothing Luhrmann has created feels grounded in anything for longer than two-minutes. I get that it’s based in a hyper-stylized vision of New York during the mid to late 70’s, but the style chosen to introduce us to the story is sometimes too much for the story. It gives us the origin of so many staples in hip-hop, Cool Hurt, Grand Master Flash, and as far as the fantastic foursome the kids make emulate a touch of Nas, and the Wu-Tang Clan. The music is good, infact… It’s the best part. The break beats, the well placed scratches, the lyrics, the vocals, all perfect. That seems to be an issue with Luhrmann, he tends to depend on the score and soundtrack to propel the work that is lacking on screen. That works for a two-hour medium, but not for an entire series.
My biggest complaint is that at moments it’s poorly structured. Luhrmann and Guirgis introduce us to a kaleidoscope of lives, from young poet Ezekiel (an intense, sometimes to a fault, Justice Smith) and his spirit guide Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) to Jimmy Smits’s avuncular gangster to his evidently talented singer niece (and Ezekiel’s love interest) Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) and the sleazy/sad music-industry burnout (Kevin Corrigan) trying to make her a star. There are so many strong performances. But The Get Down gives us their story lines awkwardly, and misjudges our interest. In alot of ways, they subvert our interest with no pay off. I usually hate teenage angst, but here it’s great (Jaden’s kissing scene would usually make me uncomfortable to watch, much like the sex scene, but it was acted so well and shot so perfectly that I was lost in that club with him). I get distracted when they introduce the machinations of the adults in broad, cartoony strokes, giving these scenes an irksome, quirky tone that the show doesn’t have in other story lines. I get separating the two, but at moments I would like some consistency.
I’m going to watch it all the way through, only because I am neurotic in that way. To me, The Get Down is a blurry and jumbled hodgepodge that more than anything else feels like a missed opportunity. It wants to be more, but it doesn’t know what that more is. I’m looking forward to another season so they can fix those kinks and make this show something we will all be proud of. But I’m only 7 hours in, what do I know? Except that if they play Jaden & Raury’s interpretation of Krautrock band Can’s Vitamin C one more time I will have to tweet at Raury and tell him they are ruining it by playing it ten times too many.