Couch Potato

The Musical Joy of the Get Down

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Welcome to part two of my accidental theme-day. Like I said earlier, I didn’t mean to be experiencing two narratives that dig deep into the tumultuous life of 1977 New York, but here we are. And lo and behold, we have something just as enjoyable and scatterbrained as the book I discussed earlier today. But this story, the new Netflix show the Get Down, has an added twist on the story, and one that would normally be a handicap to me. I don’t talk about music much on here, mainly because I’m not sure how to, but music is a big part of my life. That said, two of the big genres that don’t appeal to me are rap and hip hop. There are exceptions of course (like all right thinking humans I’m obsessed with the soundtrack to Hamilton) but for the most part hip hop doesn’t do much for me. So when I heard that Netflix was making a show about the origins of hip hop, I wasn’t super thrilled. Adding in the fact that it was co-created and partially directed by Baz Luhrmann, a director whose batting average is very suspect for me, I was probably planning on skipping this one. But then I started hearing good things about it, and the false claim that it was a musical show, my wife and I decided to give the show a go. And after getting over the fact that this show is in no way a musical, we found ourselves engrossed in a really interesting and odd little show that I ended up loving.

The premise of the show revolves around a young man named Ezekiel Figuero, who lives with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx in 1977. He’s a talented poet who doesn’t want to admit it, and just wants to get through his probably depressing life, while hoping to gain the attention of a girl named Mylene that he’s in love with. But his life changes forever when he accidentally meets a graffiti artist/hustler named Shaolin Fantastic while they’re both on a quest to get the same record, Shaolin for his DJ hero Grandmaster Flash and Ezekiel to give to Mylene who wants to use it to break into the disco game. The two strike up a hesitant friendship and Shaolin shows Ezekiel a new passion. Hip hop. They don’t call it that yet, but he brings Zeke to a Grandmaster Flash show, and the two realize that they need to get in on this, because Zeke’s natural poetic skills will make a him a natural “wordsmith” and Shaolin has been training to become a DJ.

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And from the partnership we see a real friendship grow as Zeke and Shaolin team up with a group of Kipling brothers that are friends with Zeke and begin making their own hip hop crew, the Get Down Brothers. But it’s not all about this crew’s rise to prominence, because there’s a lot more going on in this show. We follow Mylene and her attempts to break into the disco world with the help of a sleazy record producer named Jackie Moreno, we see Mylene’s uncle Francisco Cruz try to gain political power in the Bronx in order to build affordable housing for his people, we see Ed Koch running for mayor, we see the criminal pursuits of a local gangster called Fat Annie that Shaolin works for, and the stupidity of her moron son Cadillac. And we watch all of these plot lines twist together to create a dramatic, funny, funky, and all around enjoyable story examining what life in the Bronx in the 1970s was all about. We see the New York blackout, the contentious mayoral race, and all manner of social woes that I learned about in the book from earlier. Really, the only thing that seemed missing as the Son of Sam, but I suppose he didn’t do much in the Bronx.

The show was just immensely likable. I would have loved it even more if it actually was a musical like it was marketed as, but as it stands it becomes a fun story that embraces the music of the times in a really beautiful way. And really, despite my reticence at Baz Luhrmann’s involvement the show didn’t suffer from his normal aesthetic choices. He only directed the pilot, which is probably the weakest episode of the whole series, what with his spastic and frenetic editing style, but once they give him the boot the show takes on a more traditional and pleasing format that really works for the show. It can get a tad soap-operatic at times, but the characters are all fully realized, the art direction is wonderful and finds the equal beauty and foulness of New York in this time period. And the music. Guys, the music. The 70s really was producing some of my favorite music of all time, and while I don’t have a huge affinity for hip hop, what we got in the show was very enjoyable, especially knowing what the characters have done to accomplish it. But we also got some amazing funk, disco,  and soul thrown in there as well. Now we just need to toss in some punk and we’ll be set. I know that this was planned as a limited series, and will only have six more episodes, which is kind of a great idea. America needs to get over the idea that television shows need to drag on until we get fed up with them and they get cancelled, because it’s kind of a ridiculous model. We should be encouraging more well thought out narratives that have beginnings and ends, and this show is shaping up to be a hell of a story of American history, all while barely having any boring old white people in it. It’s a true American tale, about people that we don’t usually think about. And it’s terrific.

The Get Down was created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis, 2016.

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