The Get Down Season 1 Review

To paraphrase a young man sporting a fantastic Afro who could be considered a wordsmith, watching the entirety of “The Get Down’s” first season is to wrestle with the ideas of dichotomy & duality. The ability to see two opposing forces somehow come together and produce something that not only resonates beyond its promoted scope, but also present an example of failed ambition under the eyes of creators Baz Luhrmann & Stephen Guirgis is, quite possibly, “The Get Down’s” greatest accomplishment. Broken into two uneven halves, “The Get Down” is a Bronx tale showcasing the changing landscape in music as the disco era begins inching towards its zenith & subsequent demise while almost every wannabe musician praises the genre it as the truest form of audio eloquence.

But there’s another musical style rooting itself in New York’s various boroughs as “kingdoms” begin to rise thanks to the idea of taking vinyl records and “scratching” them on multiple turntables to create the perfect audible environment for dancers who embraced rawness not seen under the glitz & glamour being presented on a nightly basis in disco clubs. The promotion behind “The Get Down” of this series showcasing the fall of disco and how it played a major role in the rise of rap is both window dressing and, essentially, not true as the series’ focus is just as much about growing up and all the things that can come with it (love, friendship, finding one’s place in the world, exploring the nuances of other cultures, experimentation, the great divide between youths & adults, and all the usual “coming-of-age” troupes seen in various movies and television shows) as it is the seismic shift about to occur then in the world of music.



“The Get Down” flows thanks to the narration of Ezekiel “Zeke”/“Books” Figuero (Justice Smith) both as a youth about to graduate from high school while living with his aunt & uncle after his parents were destroyed by drugs, and an adult (voiced by East Coast rap legend Nas and performed by Daveed Diggs) as he’s shown as a rap legend now performing in his hometown during an apparent world tour where he paid homage to his old friends, his love, and, most importantly, his mentor. Before being introduced to the latter, viewers experience the budding romance between Ezekiel and his “Butterscotch Queen” Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) as the two childishly chase each other while initially denying their feelings for each other. One of the biggest reasons Cruz refuses to give of herself & her heart to Zeke is due to his lack of being like the men in her life and, ironically enough, herself by not using his natural talents to the utmost and work toward a goal – in Mylene’s case it’s to become the next big disco star in the same vein as Misty Holloway. Unlike Ezekiel denying his potential by taking a hard left compared to what was expected of him, Mylene understands what she can do, but can’t in the way she wants due to her home life under the oppressive, righteous hand of her preaching father Ramon Cruz (Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame) who wants to have his own mega church before they were known as “mega churches” with his daughter as his ministry’s songstress.

Bridging the two musical worlds (the pageantry of disco and the rugged foundation of what would become the hip-hop culture) is Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore). Initially presented as a DJ Robin Hood (stealing records by day to bring to the masses by night so they can get funky on the dance floor in some abandoned warehouse), Shao’s story proves to be the perfect example of dichotomy & duality colliding due to living two different lives – being a DJ under the tutelage of Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie) and working as a drug dealer for the ruthless Fat Annie (Lillias White) who owns one of the hottest clubs in the Bronx. Played incredibly by Moore, Fantastic is one of the series’ most sympathetic characters by being greatly flawed and accepting it while going against his fate in self-destructive ways.



The relationship between the three – Ezekiel, Mylene & Shaolin – is essentially a love triangle not based solely on romance, but a trio of people trying to follow a dream while potentially moving beyond the confines of their environment that has taken loved ones under, contaminated others (through poverty, drugs, police brutality, gerrymandering) and empowered those who don’t necessarily care about the welfare of the people they’re supposed to represent through the medium of music. All three have different viewpoints on the future of disco as well as Ezekiel’s talents and where it can take him; be it as a wordsmith behind the microphone or working as a CEO. As the series progresses, the early conflicts between Zeke, Shao & Mylene taper off, but still pop up from time to time to remind the viewer that while these young adults are participating in grown folks business they are still just kids who are learning what it takes to be an adult in the middle of chaos.

There are several B-stories mingling throughout the season that play major and minor roles in the overall narrative. Beyond the aforementioned Pastor Cruz and Fat Annie are the Kipling brothers of Ronald “Ra-Ra” (a highly intelligent, yet shy individual played by Skylan Brooks), Miles “Boo-Boo” (the kid too grown for his own good acted by Tremaine Brown Jr.) and Jaden Smith’s character Marcus ‘Dizzee’ (a graffiti artist who is more apt talking about aliens and spiritual transcendence than whether or not Mylene will ever give Zeke the time of day). There’s also Annie’s son and wannabe disco record label head honcho Clarence “Cadillac” Caldwell (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) that usually steals every scene he’s a part of, especially when the disco beat drops.

But out of all the recurring characters no one stood out more than Francisco “Papa Fuerte” Cruz (Jimmy Smits). The brother of Ramon Cruz, “Papa Fuerte” doesn’t embrace the path of godliness while trying to present his vision of a better Bronx where disenfranchised children can live in something better than poverty, where jobs and healthcare are abundant, and a park can be created featuring a golden statue of a man willing to sell his soul to more powerful politicians such as Ed Koch to achieve his dream. Francisco also plays a major role in how Ezekiel’s near future turns out, as well as his niece’s as he puts her in touch with label heads in the disco world. Smits’ performance, not matter the scenario – be it an argument over his most recent actions that have to be swept under the rug, or showing a softer side to someone out of his realm (both from physical and spiritual perspectives).



That doesn’t mean the music itself is placed on the backburner to fit in all of the drama that comes with a bunch of teenagers and power-hungry adults having their hands forced in different directions. There are several get down sessions seen throughout the series that play a major role in showcasing both the simplicity of style compared to what it would eventually become (specifically the effectiveness of a MC in promoting the DJ and himself) while praising the complexity of what it truly took to rock a crowd. After Zeke & Shao make the decision to join forces as teacher and wordsmith, there is one incredible scene where Fantastic shows his student the ropes of scratching until he has the elementary ability to create a get down record by sampling the sounds of already made songs from the genres of R & B and disco. The relationship bonds (be it friendship or romantic) through music strengthening and dissolving continuously can prove to be just as emotional and jarring as the stereotypical scenes that usually make up romantic relationships in cinema. Look no further than the eventual quintet of The Get Down Brothers featuring Ezekiel, Shaolin, and the Kipling siblings. The early interactions between these five while performing are incredibly rough as each tries to find their definitive voices. Watching them embrace their inner musicians in such an abstract form at the time is immaculate and especially inspiring for those struggling with a dream, constantly working on the craft and eventually getting recognized for their talents.

The struggle of becoming a force in the disco world isn’t ignored in favor of The Get Down Brothers’ journey. With hip-hop not being commercialized at the time, there was obviously no business structure. To give the viewer an idea of just how wild and ruthless the music game was then and still can be, Mylene is thrust into a world foreign to her while producing one of the best songs to not only grace the series, but also maybe even all of television with “Set Me Free”. Mylene’s journey toward stardom proves to be tumultuous from both perspectives of her home life and her potential career due to both being so connected – providing several of the most depressing moments of the series. Just as disheartening is the series’ follow up to “Set Me Free” in “Toy Box” that sounds like a track made by Lady Gaga that she felt wasn’t good enough for her latest album instead of a true hit from the era being depicted.



It would be wonderful if “Toy Box” is the only disappointing part of the season’s second half where the final five episodes aired seven months after the first six premiered during the summer of 2016. From a stylistic standpoint, “The Get Down” is one of the most factually accurate depictions of the era for anyone who has experienced it or been around people who lived during the late seventies on the east coast – something not better shown than through the eccentric, yet long-winded first episode that can easily turn off the viewer due to its heavy-handedness. The costly measures to capture everything about the conflicting times including the decaying neighborhoods, the fashion style and even the musical sequences are offset by season’s second half where moments expected to play out in live action are actually animated including one climactic scene that loses a lot of its impact due to the cartoonish nature of what is being shown. What should’ve been utilized only for a specific character (which is the way the animated style is introduced) finds its way throughout the second half and proves to be incredibly jarring even if it supposedly ties into the belief that this temporary style shift is Ezekiel’s visual recounting of how everything absurdly played out during his formative years as a rapper.

Also absurd are some of the plot holes and character interactions (or lack thereof in regards to the latter) that can only be tied to the fact Netflix cut down the season’s second half by two episodes. If that’s not the case, the writing staff apparently just gave up on trying to make sure every emphatic moment or cliffhanger had a satisfying payoff. The hectic rush toward the season’s conclusion and the ending itself is a terrible example of what happens when art imitates life – the grandiose hopes & plans of “The Get Down’s” writers & creators not panning out due to the restrictions of the network giving them the platform to produce something remarkable.

With “The Get Down” costing so much to make and the overall critical response being mixed at best, the belief that a second season will never happen is more likely than not – which is incredibly disappointing considering how much groundwork the first season laid for the future that might never come to be, let alone make up for its predecessor’s shortcomings. Second season or not, “The Get Down” series is a good reflection of its major promotional point: experimentation in an effort to find the perfect result; be it music, politics, religion, growing as a person, or some combination of the four. For those who were initially gripped with the idea of “The Get Down” being a pseudo-documentary about the worlds of disco and hip-hop colliding will be sorely disappointed. What exists here is a musical drama bordering on excellence, but eventually hampered by the problems happening behind the scenes apparently seeping its way onto the screen.


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