Review of The Get Down, Season 1 (Netflix)
The Get Down
Sony Pictures Television
The Get Down is a mess. It’s a fuzzy mish-mash of genres, chock full of things that make little to no sense. It attempts to lump together elements of superhero movies, musicals, kung-fu flicks, spaghetti westerns, 70’s Blaxploitation films, and god only knows what all else. It’s a fiction, but features exaggerated versions of real people…who are still alive, as are many that were active in the setting. This is expectedly problematic. In general, it’s a bit of a fucking disaster. But, if you can get your head out of your damn backpack, let go of concerns for things like ‘sense’ or ‘cohesion,’ and just let the thing take you, it’s a helluva good time.
Set in the Bronx of 1977 (the July 13 blackout occurs in episode three, if you want to get wildly specific), The Get Down primarily tells the story of Zeke (Justice Smith), a poet too smothered by the world to recite his own work. Zeke runs primarily with the Kipling brothers: Dizzee (Jaden Smith is fantastically untethered) the graffiti artist most likely to say things about his chakras, Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks), and Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.). Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo theoretically have personalities and interesting qualities, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what they are (through no fault of the young actors). When Zeke isn’t spending his time…
**Stop. I’m beginning to feel like an idiot. There’s way, way too much going on with this show, and there’s no way I can explain it straight and make you want to watch it, which I think you should…So, for the remainder of this synopsis, please keep in mind that I’m going to paint in very broad and often untrue strokes. Buckle in.**
Zeke plays piano better than and kid his age should, writes ridiculously good poetry but won’t read it, pines for Mylene (Herizen Guardiola), applies for internships, and probably makes a mean Dover Sole Meuniere. Mylene dreams of being a disco star (which the show spends probably waaaaaaay too much time on, considering that the rise of hip-hop – which this series is actually primarily about – helped put disco on the street within the three years following), but is stymied by her Pentecostal preacher father (Giancarlo Esposito) who doesn’t want her signing that devil music.
Zeke and the Kiplings meet up with Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), local master of graffiti, kung-fu, parkour, trucker hats, and red Puma wearing. Shao is also the boy-toy of local gangster Fat Annie (Lillias White), running errands for the queenpin when not practicing the other million things he is better than anyone else in the world at. Anyway, all these dudes meet up and decide they have to start a hip-hop group. Zeke becomes a rapper instantaneously, but Shao has a little more trouble becoming a DJ.
They have to visit Grandmaster Flash, who Miyagi-s Shao into a DJ with a magic crayon or some shit. Dizzee paints burners on trains. Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo sit on chairs and stuff. Jimmy Smits shows up as a sleazy politician that hires a sleazy record producer (Kevin Corrigan) to help Mylene become a star even though he is entirely washed up. There’s some extra plot story involving Smits and Mylene’s mom. Kool Herc speaks in rhymes, even though he’s a DJ. His mom hands out hot dogs. Daveed Diggs lip-syncs Nas raps at every show opening, which is particularly whatthafuck since Nas is pretty good at acting like a rapper and Diggs is a pretty damn good rapper in his own right. Shit is on fire everywhere, like that house in Synechdoce, New York. The Bronx is part desert. I’m fucking exhausted.
I know what this sounds like. Unplug your brain. Forget about the fact that none of this makes much sense. Don’t sweat the historical details. Don’t Google in what borough certain stuff happened or when name buckles became popular. You don’t even really need to pay attention to any of the stuff about gangsters or disco. Get up and get a cocktail. Roll something. Imbibe. It isn’t going to make things make any less sense.
If you can disconnect, it’s a fun fucking ride, man. It’s a Baz Lurhman project, so it looks bananas. Both kinds of bananas, good and insane. The musical numbers are often amazing. The genre nods are fun, as long as you don’t try to hang on to them…because they won’t be around long. The cast is mostly great, despite the writing often being pfffft. It’s a historical fever dream about the birth of hip-hop culture, and it isn’t going to win a Pulitzer. Or probably any Emmys. But it’s fun.