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.