Netflix UK TV review: The Get Down (Part 1, Episodes 2 to 6 – spoilers)
Chris Bryant | On 19, Aug 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen The Get Down? Catch up with our spoiler-free look at the opening episodes.
Baz Luhrmann’s 1970’s hip-hop origins story follows its feature-length debut with five hour-long episodes, which continue the often reality-inspired struggle the characters face. It incorporates the New York blackouts, Ed Koch’s mayoral campaign, and some of the most well-known names in hip-hop’s history into a grassroots story about a group of friends who find themselves at the forefront of the new music scene.
The struggle the show faces, however, is translating the magic the characters feel into magic the audience can feel. Hip-hop fans may not need so much selling on the subject. Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc are rightfully praised as mystical deities of their field, original scratching techniques are dissected, and the graffiti scene remains a central point. There’s no doubt that The Get Down has enough nods to hip-hop culture to ensure the fans are happy.
Baz Luhrmann’s endless quest to merge sound and cinema, however, results in an odd mismatch of visual storytelling. There’s no doubt that the soulful, rebellious characters – portrayed wonderfully by a talented, engaging cast – are designed to uplift and uproot in equal measure. Ezekiel decides he can change more minds with rap than with politics and Mylene takes an entire church well…to church; it’s clear that the characters’ bountiful, funky defiance is something everyone will be able to feel deep within.
Outside the leading pair’s musical rises, the show does a lot well, but little consistently. Multiple secondary stories are given room to grow a little, but none enough to grip or inject any real tension. The burgeoning affair between Cruz and his sister-in-law, for example, never gets enough depth to really strike a chord. In principle, it’s shocking, but in practice, it feels like illicit filler before Luhrmann can build to another musical number. Giancarlo Esposito’s strict preacher also plays unevenly, appearing to have only proselytising speeches or humble silences to choose from.
However, the issues The Get Down has do not leap from the screen. If you wish to question its legitimacy, you have to sift through a whole lot of magic to get there. The magic Luhrmann and Nas’ gritty/glittery drama has isn’t lovingly crafted or carefully timed the way these authority figures hope. It comes together much as The Fantastic 4 Plus 1’s music does; it’s extravagant, and messy, and nearly always last minute – and of course, the more last minute it is, the more magical it is. On the simple terms of encouraging anyone, anywhere to dream, The Get Down succeeds with style. It’s colourful, it’s witty, it’s an ode to the 70s’ coked-up music industry, and a tough yet optimistic view of hip-hop’s birth.
The Get Down: Part 1 and 2 are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.