Netflix UK TV review: The Get Down (Part 1, Episode 1)
Chris Bryant | On 14, Aug 2016
“Y’all wanna go to the flyest secret underground party in The Bronx?”
The Bronx, 1977. Ezekiel Figuero (Justice Smith) is a kid whose world is a crumbling, graffiti-strewn wasteland, complete with teenage gangs, and drug-peddlers. Ezekiel’s quest to impress classmate and singing sensation Mylene (Herizen F Guardiola) leads him into the path of local legend Shaolin Fantastic – and right to the centre of the birth of hip-hop.
Brought to life by Baz Luhrmann and executively produced by Nas, The Get Down is a bright, loud world hidden among New York’s lowest income areas. Where there were once grey, eroded buildings and noisy trains, there are now illuminating splashes of spray paint and echoing disco beats. Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a graffiti marvel, happens upon Ezekiel and his band of dreamers and decides they are more than wannabes. In spite of his belief, The Get Down’s feature-length first episode isn’t about finding a diamond in the rough. Much like the real underground scene at the time, it was about finding teenagers who saw more than their run-down, underfunded surroundings.
Luhrmann’s knack for blending the musical with the cinematic is used to full effect here, with Nas himself poetically narrating the proceedings which may end with dreams of changing the world, but began with a boy trying to get a girl to notice him. The episode moves as smoothly and fluidly as Shaolin himself, balancing shootouts with parties and history with attitude. Backed with the reality of life for the black community at the time, The Get Down boasts some serious names to put the boy’s adventures in context. Giancarlo Esposito as Mylene’s religious father and Jimmy Smits as a vilified local leader ensure the action remains grounded, while Jaden Smith’s psychedelic Dizzee flanks Ezekiel and encourages everyone to keep their collective head in the clouds.
Stylishly dropping names like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash into the fray as the boys’ quest to party becomes a quest to become the party, the show’s hip-hop and disco mentality translates to screen brilliantly, with the musical scenes stealing the show. This opening episode introduces The Get Down as a show designed to dream, and to portray a soulful experience in which a group of underprivileged black teenagers wind up chasing dreams that even wordsmith MC Ezekiel can’t put into words.
All six episodes of The Get Down: Part 1 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.