A coming-of-age musical drama of how hip hop was born in the Bronx in the 1970s, The Get Down is a stunning visual piece synonymous with Baz Luhrmann’s style — dazzling and purposefully excessive, à la Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. The budget-breaking US$120 million makes The Get Down is one of the most expensive TV series ever made, and took Luhrmann over 10 years to complete.
The series follows orphaned street poet Ezekiel “Books” Figueroa (Justice Smith) on a journey to discover both hip hop and his own self, with another aspiring musician, Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), with whom he forms an unexpected friendship after a night of brawling and partying. Together they form the Fantastic Four Plus One with the Kipling brothers, who give the show its unexpected comic relief, while Mylene (Herizen Guardiola) is Ezekiel’s “butterscotch queen” with big dreams and a big voice.
Beginning with an impressive performance by Guardiola showcasing her amazing vocals, The Get Down starts slowly, but quickly picks up the pace as night falls. Things get intense in a high-speed chase between Shaolin and a rival gang, leading to a disco scene turned-bloody shootout, and an emotional fight between Mylene and her disco-hating father that ended in tears, before returning to the show’s eponymous underground club, The Get Down, where Ezekiel transforms from poet to MC. It ends with some feel-good vibes as the Fantastic Four Plus One chills on the roof of Shaolin’s place, and as the credits roll, you find yourself feeling like you’ve just gotten off a roller coaster — overwhelmed, in a good way, and itching for more.
However, looking past the stunning visuals, the plot is an archetypal coming-of-age story, with standardised life lessons like “Leaders lead, while cowards cower,” (Shaolin showing Ezekiel how to groove). It is yet another show of friendships forged, young love, and chasing dreams, although what carries the show is the stellar cast who manage to achieve impressive chemistry, even for actors with such short resumes as Smith, Guardiola, and Moore. Jimmy Smits, Giancarlo Esposito, Eric Bogosian and Jaden Smith are also in the cast, and the use of real-life characters such as politician Ed Koch, drug kingpin Nicky “Mr. Untouchable” Barnes and the legendary Grandmaster Flash has the series keeping things 70’s real. Another ingredient of authenticity comes from the 70s stock footage, digitally knitted together with Baz’s signature visual.
Overall, The Get Down is a symphony of deliberate inconsistency to resemble the Bronx itself; it refracts the narrative through many different lenses to portray the richness and diversity of this neglected burrough, and bombards our senses with bright colours and a wild soundtrack (from hip hop to disco to classical) to mimic the vibe that is the 70s Bronx. To quote Baz himself, “How did so much creativity come from New York in that moment at that time?”
Part 1 of The Get Down, comprising 6 episodes, will be available for all Netflix members in Singapore on Friday, 12 August, 15:00, followed by Part 2, debuting in 2017.