The second part of The Get Down first season (the story of the rise of Hip-Hop and reign of Disco in the 70s’ created by Baz Luhrmann) is an over-dramatic affair, hampered by an occasional inconsistent narrative and schmaltzy performances and yet, the latter half of its five part run is some of the best TV I’ve seen in some time. It’s almost as though it’s aware of its weaknesses and instead of trying to rectify them, it wears them on its sleeve, somehow twisting them into the show’s most charming and effective elements.
Things kick off in a positive light. The Get Down Brothers are turning out massive crowds, Marlene has become the singer to talk about and has earned her fathers adoration and Ezekiel has a swanky office job and a good chance of getting into Yale. It isn’t long though before everything goes completely off the rails as the fight for freedom, truth and honour begins to wage.
There is a beautiful, poetic theme that hovers over Part Two, much more pronounced than what it was in the first part. Everything, right up until its closing moments is built on a foundation of being free, carving your own path rather than being governed by someone else desires. It follows every facet of the show, sometimes obviously, other times subtlety but at all times gracefully, restraining itself from beating you over the head with it. It was one of my favourite things about the show, as over time the shows writers close the figurative walls around our characters. Clinging onto hope for everything to just work out OK was what kept me invested.
Of course, recurring themes do not a show make. Luckily our leads handle themselves like true thespians. The younger ones have gained a hell of a lot more confidence since this series started out. Justice Smith’s Ezekiel (who is 21 but has the voice of a 40 year old) is outstanding, juggling a spectrum of emotions over the course of Part 2. He has a commanding presence on screen, as though he has been doing this for a decade. His scenes with newcomer Herizen F. Guardiola’s Mylene border on sappy and a tad trashy romance novel but they are a sweet, convincing couple who genuinely bust their asses to get us to swoon for them. Shameik Moore who plays Shaolin Fantastic is the most conflicting role in the show. I hated him even though he was Zeke’s best friend but that was the point. Moore plays Shao to an arrogant, obnoxious tee who is completely cool until he gets told how shitty of a person he is.
Part Two lays out its blueprints at the beginning, labelling The Get Down brothers and proceeding to honour their archetypal branding. Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.) aka “The Wild One” gets his own arc, getting blinded by the dark side of fame; Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks) aka “The All Seeing Eye” is the brains and sense behind the group and Dizzee (Jaden Smith) aka “The Free Spirit”, much like the actor who plays him, is living on another plane of existence. I loved that each character had their own personality, I just found that going to great lengths make their mission statement come to fruition was a little too conspicuous, and definitely something that should have been done from the start.
The Get Down’s players and their penchant for theatricality are all part of the package though. After all, do you remember who spent ten years trying to get this show off the ground? The shows larger than life characters are essential to this torrid, glitzy/gritty soap opera vibe. Why else would you get Jimmy Smits to play a role? Personal and professional troubles abound, joy and whimsy is had as all the bright lights and roaring crowds are intertwined with predatory label execs, immoral mob bosses and the very real and much ingrained fact that no matter who they are or what they do, they’re all still trapped in the Bronx.
Bit of trivia for you here. The Get Down is now tied for the second biggest budget ever for a television series. And it shows. If the acting is too bloated or the characters unlikable, then at least stay for the music. Part 2 reaches inside itself and gives everything when it comes to its musical sequences. The Get Down Brother’s shows are filmed with all the gusto and flair of a music video, capturing each MC in their best moments, immersing us with crowd shots and resting long enough on Shao’s hands to watch him work. Not to mention, the beats and the lyricism are exceptional, as are the performances of the young cast, lifting their crowds on screen and us at home with high energy.
Marlene’s gets her shine too, trading the Brothers dingy little spots for expensive clubs with lights and choreography that present an entirely different atmosphere. There wasn’t a number in this series that didn’t have some part of me moving and with the costume design, camera work and flawless production values, it all blends together to form an authentic and spectacular part of the show and clearly, it’s main attraction.
There was one aspect though that didn’t have any redeeming qualities. In lieu of Jaden Smith’s noticeable absence from Part 2, his presence is felt through his comics, which in the show play out as animated segments. They’re presented in 70s’ style animation but they just don’t quite gel with the rest of the show and its frequent cuts to real life Bronx, or its grainy filter upon exiting scenes. They’re too vibrant and to be blunt, lame. They detract from the drama, at one point even robbing an important scene of it’s weight.
The Get Down is far from a perfect series. It lets sub-plots fall by the wayside and it can get dangerously close to being laughed at with how hammy its dialogue and drama can be. However if you accept that (as it seems to) and focus on its sensational, bombastic musical numbers, its delectable camera work and extremely hard working actors, there is a rewarding show on offer. The last two episodes are nothing short of brilliant and left me with chills, not only because of its ability to spark emotion but because it’s major musical scenes are breathtaking. If nothing else, I’ll always maintain that The Get Down is the hardest working show on TV.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Get Down Season One (Parts 1 and 2) is available on Netflix now.