The Get Down: season one, part two – review

TV

The Get Down was, by its own admission, a hugely ambitious undertaking by Baz Luhrmann and his team. With a sizeable investment from Netflix (although they’re seemingly unstoppable these days, so whatever). So it meant that a lot was riding on this tale of late ‘70s New York, painted as a city in crisis – at least in the Bronx, where most of our story takes place.

Plus it’s a sprawling epic. 

It touches on poverty, drugs, sexuality, inner city regeneration, friendship and male bonding, graffiti and self-expression, religion, and the birth of hip-hop, and how music can change your life and those around you. And that’s just for starters.

Which means that, with great ambition comes great responsibility. I mean, this show built itself up to tackle A LOT of weighty subjects and it does so quite well, for the most part. But derails a little come the second half of the season, which we’ll get to.

Moreover, maybe it bit off more than it could chew, with all these subjects vying for screen time. It made it hard to get a handle on the main thrust of the story at times. Was it part documentary, musical, love story, social commentary, musical history lesson or gangster movie? Or all of the above? The mind is liable to boggle.

Which meant, that if you wanted to pick holes in the plot, you could. You’d find loads. But the show’s sheer exuberance and enthusiasm for its material more or less carried it through. And this was helped, in part, by numerous punch-the-air musical moments, delivered by a highly watchable cast. In particular Ekeziel ‘Zeke’ Figuero (Justice Smith), the wordsmith of The Get Down Brothers (loosely modelled on the birth of the Sugar Hill Gang) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) a blossoming disco star; herself trying to break away from the clutches of a religiously overzealous father and the fact she’s come from more or less nothing. 

For all its ambition though, it’s a show of two halves (to coin a football pundit phrase). In that the first half introduced the main characters – framed via a modern-day rap concert (with Nas playing a grown-up Zeke) – and set them on their path to musical glory well enough. And was stylised much like a musical, all primary colours and big hair.

But then it seemed the second half of the season thought it best to get high on its own supply. Which meant it, rather oddly, got pretty trippy. We had the introduction of numerous animated sections in each episode which, whilst fun, seemed like a device to help Baz and his overworked crew take a breather whilst they set up the next big musical set piece. 

The plot, too, seemed a bit spaced out. There were really too many story strands drifting around the place to fully invest in any of them. And by the time the finish rolled around, I was left feeling like I’d seen something quite good, but also quite confused about what it wanted to be.

So top marks for ambition, casting, musical numbers and vision. But sorry Baz, you’re getting a little marked down for execution and story. Still though, overall, it’s a decent show and worth catching. Particularly if you’re a fan of hip-hop and experiencing a little slice of the birth of a musical genre done with real flair. 

Words are weapons

Poetry

Pen to paper his words make this man a lyrical saviour.
Phrases tight and concise, watch them taper into nothin’ but vapour.
Smoke and ashes… they’re like fallout clouds.
Watch him take a topic mighty proud and smash it.
And the way he weaves his syllables is… oh so cool, it’s fantastic.
Fans hang on his schemes like the Pied Piper leading rats upstream, they’re ecstatic.
Cos he’s match fit and fights on multiple fronts like a midfield general.
Spittin’ his ink extreme like the king of the sea.
His wordplay weaves around you like octopus tentacles.
So don’t anger him.
Or he’ll have you stumbling like a drunk that’s just learnt how to invent a fall.
You’ll clam up, forgetting rebuttals like you’ve gone and hit a wall.
Waiting your whole life to face him then choke and miss the call.
But don’t be miserable… when you’re clearly bound to fall, facing this devious wordsmith.
The speed at which he constructs his rhymes will have you baffled at times trying to decipher his verses.

And your fear, to him, is palpable.
So you play it cool, but it’s obvious to all your nervousness.
Maybe you should be more merciless, but you’re real scared.
One slip and you’ll be saying your final prayers.
Crying like a sucker come last at musical chairs.
Like a spouse playing house, caught in the middle of a sordid affair.
But who knows, maybe you’ll prevail.
You’ve been locked away for days now.
Penning a slow flow in your poetic jail.
Sweating devine rhymes, taking your time and all that entails.
Trying to act tough, but what you do is never enough.
And you just come across as pathetic and frail.
Cos right now… you’re real stale.
And all this does is make you feel pale.
But in battle you’ll get wasted.
That pasty face becoming your betrayal.
And the mountain you gotta climb to beat your nemesis, does not seem one you can easily scale.
Destiny, it would seem, would like you to fail.

I am the one who boasts

Poetry

Anything you can do I can do better.
It’s time you learnt I’m a bona-fide trendsetter.
While we’re sharing I’m gonna boast in party situations I’m the world’s best host.
Hell… I’m a social butterfly.
People flock to me as I dance and flutter by.
No word of a lie it’s true, the fact that I’m best is far beyond you.

But out there, people cause trouble.
Looking for a weakness to burst your bubble.
You want a single shot, they want doubles.
You apply the brakes as they up the stakes.
They’re out there, showing they’re best.
But they’ve always got issues to get off their chest.
You gotta sack ’em off… that’s what I say.
Put ’em in the dirt and leave them where they lay.
You don’t need them bringing you down.

Mentally agile I’m a brutal intellectual.
Your IQ is nothing if not ineffectual.
Pound for pound I’m the champ with anecdotes.
You the smart Alec but as usual you choke.
For if you can’t beat the problem then let it be broke.

In the world of business I’m a CEO.
You should see me in meetings when I’m in full flow.
People hang on my word, my God it’s absurd.
But they’re my soldiers, my little herd.
Now budgets and spreadsheets, that’s my thing.
I make those cells dance and the numbers sing.
To negotiate you’d better step to the plate.
There’s no time to hate if you think it’s same-same.
You’d better up your skills and bring your A-game.
If not you’ll fall fast and flat on your ass.
Which I find is when I call time when faced with a mind like mine.

When it comes to family I’m the world’s best dad.
Honestly though, it drives my wife mad, with desire of course.
For our fires burn bright and we’ll never get divorced.
But back on the market I’m a swinging bachelor.
I ratchet up the pressure on the single fellas.
‘How do we bag a bride?’ they cry, ‘Please tell us!’
Instead I smile, look away and stay silent.
I’ll take that to the grave, don’t make me get violent.

And so.. To sign off, a confession.
Consider this a humility lesson.
None of what I’ve said has a grain of truth.
From middle age back to my bad boy youth.
But then again, you knew that didn’t you?
I used to think that you never had a clue.
I used to think that you liked to play it smooth.
I used to think that you’d push it for the sake of it.
Piling on the pressure just to make it fit.
I’d be out there giving it large.
Yet all along, you were in charge.
But like a vapid spectre, an empty ghost.
I still remain, the one who boasts.