The Get Down - TV Review
In Three Words: Mesmerising, Nostalgic, Required.
When I got word that there was going to be a Netflix series about the birth Hip-Hop, I assumed that it was going to be one of many documentaries. Think "Making a Murderer" but with Hip-Hop instead of, you know, homicide. But then details of the project came to light and I realised that this was different, this could be a time machine like no other.
The first episode was feature length and directed by Baz Luhrmann. (of The Great Gatsby & Moulin Rouge fame) It was clear that it was going to be a love story, similar to "The Great Gatsby". But it wasn't just a love story between Ezekiel. (Played by Justice Smith) and Mylene (Played by the stunning Herizen Guardiola) No. Once again, something was different.
What was it? What was that thing that set it apart? Maybe it was the cast? The cast was certainly excellent. I believe that casting holds more weight to the success of a film or TV show than people think. We take casting for granted and "The Get Down" was a perfect example of how you do not need star power for something to be great. The biggest name on the cast list was probably Jaden Smith and there was only a handful of scenes where it was exclusively about his character 'Dizzee' Kipling. Noticeable faces here and there like Jimmy Smits and Giancarlo Esposito made me go "Ayy look who it is". But again, They were supporting characters.
Ever since the 1940's, the film (and later on) TV industry have been more about money than creativity. It is certainly what makes the world go round. So when I heard that Luhrmann went from $30 Million to a whopping $120 Million, I was surprised that the powers that be even allowed it to bloat to 4 times the original budget. Now I don't know what made the budget balloon like that but I for one certainly am glad they absolutely destroyed the bank.
Now if you search the web for other reviews they slate this show. (Well let's call it what it is. A 6+ Hour film) Some talk about Lurhmann's influence and how it turned out to be negative. Some slate it's struggle to find it's identity. Some talk about the budget and how that is some Cardinal Sin or something. Miss me with all of that. Let me break it down for you.
Yes. The narrative was all over the place. Fair enough. But you don't always need Aaron Sorkin level's of script-writing genius. The writing is essential to any visual art but in this case it was the music that set itself apart. Question. Why is "Empire" so popular? EXACTLY! Because it was a one-of-a-kind, musical, drama hybrid that has great talent in it's cast and "The Get Down" takes it to another level because of the historical tie ins. And like Empire who have had noted musicians hook them up, TGD was blessed with Nas writing lyrics. Little fact, while Nas was writing lyrics he surrounded himself with pictures of the old days where people like Jazzy Jay & Grandmaster Flash were spinning records in The Bronx. Which brings me to one of my three words, Nostalgic.
I didn't live in The Bronx when it looked similar to the London "Blitz" as Reagan famously compared it to. I wasn't one of the looters during the NY Blackout. The only connection I personally have to "The Get Down" is that I have deep respect for the history of Hip-Hop and I would go out on a limb as to say that the critics for this show don't have the same affinity for the genre as I or you do. It is a way of life, you can't please everybody. But I for one can certainly say that this is more like an historical document. With the side stories of the NY Mayoral Race, the battle against graffiti and community leaders balancing themselves between being heroes and sellouts. It is a time machine. Look past the vibrancy that Lurhmann loves to implement as a major part of his auteurship and you can see that this is simply a masterpiece.
I go back to the narrative and how the main story was a tale of love. Young love, something that most of us have experienced. The reason why Romance films don't vibe with me personally (Maybe you're the same) is because it's more like fantasy. But the relationship between Ezekiel and Mylene seemed more real. They had their ups & downs and while I was watching them trying to succeed as a couple amidst the tornado of events surrounding them, I got frustrated with some of their decisions. Do not get it twisted, the fact that I got emotionally involved and wanted to tell the two what to do, I find is a great thing, And it's more realistic because they are high school children. They both make rash decisions because of their young ineptitude. Wanting to be famous but also be in love and get out of The Bronx together. Sometimes you can't have both and you could see that they were visually struggling to come to terms with that fact. Even through all the family troubles and inner demons they still held hope in the end and I found that particularly heartwarming.
I think that was what made this show different. The fact that it was a dramatic re-creation of several historical events mixed with a unique story of love, kids being kids and trying to make it out of the ghetto.
Say what you will about the script, the characters were outstanding and the cast portrayed them perfectly. From the Kipling Brothers and their love for art and being smart to Shaolin Fantastic trying to work out how he was going to be a DJ and work in the criminal underground at the same time. Being a, well lets face it, a type of gigolo. The characters bounced off each other perfectly and it was organic. I don't even rate Jaden Smith as an actor but I liked him in this. That was probably because his character WAS Jaden Smith if he was born in that time. I found it funny whenever some hipster BS comes out. Every character had their closed closets and I felt the urge to open them all. From Pastor Cruz' past being aired out by his own brother to Ezekiel's mother and how her absence moulded his thirst for being a poet. Hence the second word. Mesmerising.
And we MUST mention the music. Oh man the messages behind the music for this was beautiful. Realise that Hip-Hop was born out of many genres of popular music. It was why you heard Motown, disco, soul. Hip-Hop looks very different today and may give off the impression that it is it's own thing now. This show also highlights how it wasn't just African Americans that sewed the seeds, but the Hispanic community also hand a significant hand in it. Hip-Hop will never escape it's roots and this series displayed tons of homages to the music that created Hip-Hop. Whether trap artists today like it or not, they wouldn't be here if Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and others didn't see an Aretha Franklin or Jackson 5 record and switch it up to create something unique. Which brings me to my final of the the three words to describe "The Get Down". Required.
This is required for any Hip-Hop student. But even if you're not a Hip-Hop student, if you want a glimpse into the birth of Hip-Hop. If you want a glimpse into how fractured New York was. Or even if you just want a love story. The Get Down is the place to be. Great music whether it be historical or original, amazing characters and actors/actresses that did the most to make them relatable and real. Call it an overpriced musical if you like. I love Biopics and this is pretty much one. But instead of one person. It covers an entire era and how it birthed what is now the most dominant culture in the Western World today. For me personally, "The Get Down" is outstanding and I have never related to a film or TV Show as much as this.