The Coincidental Critic

Exploring the art of storytelling.

I’m Down for The Get Down (SPOILERS)

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As soon as I heard about The Get Down, I marked it on my calendar.  Baz Luhrmann is one of my favorite directors–if not my absolute favorite director.  He has such a signature style that combines all art forms and stimulates the senses of sight and sound.  His work is always beautiful, colorful, musical, and theatrical.  It’s the embodiment of artistry.  So of course, I was eager to see what Luhrmann would do with a TV series.

The Plot

I’m not going to lie; I didn’t know if I was going to make it past the first episode.  At the start, The Get Down was confusing.  The directing style was very choppy, constantly jumping between different camera shots and angles.  So my head was already spinning as I tried to keep track of all of the characters and storylines.  It took me a while to figure out the point of the episode.  I didn’t understand where the writers were leading us.  On top of that, there were several scenes with cheesy lines and awkward acting.  In the first episode, Ezekiel and Mylene’s love story seemed very clichéd: a boy is infatuated by a girl; the girl toys with the boy’s emotions because she doesn’t want to commit; they go back and forth.

At times, it was hard to take the characters and storyline seriously.  A prime example was when Ezekiel and Shaolin fought over the Misty Holloway record.  Originally, Shaolin stole the record from Ezekiel.  Then, Ezekiel stole it back.  Then, they fought for it in an alleyway, during which Shaolin said, “If I f— up my pants, I’mma kill you twice.”  Eventually, they sorted it all out.  But, it was difficult for me to take that whole storyline seriously.  I didn’t understand the importance of the record and I thought the characters were being a bit extreme, especially Shaolin.  I also had difficulty taking Grandmaster Flash seriously.  When he called Shaolin “grasshopper,” I thought it was humorous because it seemed to mock other shows and movies, but I don’t think that was the intention.  Grandmaster Flash seemed like a farce.

The first episode just couldn’t find its footing.  Overall, it was a lot to wrap my head around.  We were thrown into the world of The Get Down with not enough context.  The first episode should have been split into two separate episodes in order to spread out the plot.

But, once we got past the pilot, we were left with a masterful work of art.  The Get Down improved with each episode.  The plot became more exciting and the characters became more compelling.  While watching the final episode, I realized I didn’t want part one to end.  I had become so engrossed in these characters’ lives.

As we neared the end of part one, I thought Ezekiel was going to have to choose between his smarts (the internship) and his art (the Get Down Brothers).  This is a storyline we’ve seen time and time again: a character having to make a choice between what he/she should do and what he/she wants to do.  But the writers for The Get Down surprised me.  Ezekiel didn’t have to make any sacrifice; he chose to do both.  He spoke at Ed Koch’s rally and was able to make it in time to win the DJ battle.  It was refreshing to see a character excel at two divergent skills because in life, no one should have to limit him/herself.

My favorite scene in all of part one was the DJ battle at the end.  There was a huge build up to it and it did not disappoint.  First of all, the Get Down Brother’s rap, choreography, and music were on fire.  I couldn’t look away and I was dancing in my seat.  I loved how the scene was filmed.  It reminded me of a music video.  There were several shots of the whole group, along with some close up shots.  The cameras moved in time to the music, sweeping around the stage.  Along with that, the cinematography was beautiful.  Watching the sun set behind the crowd and the city was breathtaking.  The whole scene was just pure gold.

Unfortunately, part one didn’t end there.  Instead, it dragged on.  After the DJ battle scene, there was another scene with Ezekiel and Mylene standing on a rooftop looking at Manhattan.  They spoke of their bright futures and compared Manhattan to the Bronx.  It was a calm and peaceful scene, but not as powerful as the previous scene.  But I could understand the writers wanting to end part one on a more contemplative note.  But again, it didn’t end there and the episode continued dragged on.  We were shown clips of the city and flashbacks to poignant moments in part one.  It was like a recap of part one with Mylene’s single paying in the background.  We had just watched all of part one, why was it shown to us again?  I didn’t understand the repetition.  Finally, part one ended after the montage of clips.  But by that time, my excitement from the DJ battle scene had deflated.

The Characters

The heart of The Get Down was the characters.  They brought this story to life.  I fell in love with each and every one of them.  I don’t think there was a single character that I didn’t like.  The strength in each of these characters was admirable.

It is refreshing to see a show that showcases people of color.  The main characters were black and hispanic adolescents.  About eighty percent of the cast are people of color; that is unheard of in Hollywood.  To add to that, all of the characters were extremely complex and unique.  In particular, there was a group of five black teenage boys and all of them were completely different.  They had their own unique personalities, skills, and interests.  I’m so glad that people of color are finally having their stories told.

My favorite character in The Get Down was Papa Fuerte.  He had a prominent role in each episode.  While he wasn’t a perfect person, he had a big heart and good intentions.  He stole my attention in every scene he was in.

I appreciated the fact that Mylene wasn’t sexualized.  She was a teenage girl who dreamt of being a disco star and deserved to be because of her talent.  But she stuck to her morals and wouldn’t succumb to the men in the business.  Along with this, I appreciated that her producer, Jackie Moreno, did not take advantage of her.  He had a lot of problems, but he was not a predator.  This allowed Mylene to achieve her dream without sacrificing her integrity.

The character I had the most questions about was Shaolin.  From the start, Shaolin was this mysterious figure.  He was a legendary graffiti artist who retired to become a DJ.  He also knew kung fu.  Where did Shaolin come from?  What is his background?  There is still so much we don’t know.

The Actors

The Get Down had an amazing ensemble.  The actors were all perfectly casted and had great chemistry with one another.  I’m so impressed with the young actors that were the driving force behind the show.  They were incredibly talented.  Not only could they all act, but they could rap and sing.  In particular, I was blown away with Herizen Guardiola’s (Mylene) voice.  Looking at the whole cast, I was thoroughly impressed with Jimmy Smits’ (Papa Fuerte) acting.  I’m convinced that he is actually Papa Fuerte.

The Writing

The writing in The Get Down was excellent.  In particular, Ezekiel’s poems and raps were very well written.

One of the best parts of The Get Down was when Ezekiel recited his poem about his mother’s death.  He had memorized the poem and put so much emotion and power behind the words.  He told the story about how his mother was killed before his eyes, how his father suffered, and how the rest of the privileged white world just didn’t seem to care.  Just like Ms. Green, I was brought to tears.  Ezekiel used his way with words to make a tragic story compelling and artistic.  This was the moment that made me realize that this show was going be special.

The best line in The Get Down part one was when Dizzee was at the gay club and Thor’s friend explained why people were dressed in drag.  Dizzee asked “Are they boys or girls?”  And the answer he got was perfect.  “Both,” she said, “boys dressed as girls, boys with girls trapped inside, boys changing into girls, girls who got tired of being boys.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  That is the best explanation I have ever heard because it provides several possibilities for what these people could be experiencing.  Nothing is ever black and white, and everyone’s personal experience is unique and complex.

The Music

When we found out that lovers Ezekiel and Mylene were both aspiring musicians, I was hoping that Ezekiel’s rapping would be remixed with Mylene’s singing; The Get Down did not disappoint.  They combined the two music genres a few times and it was euphonious and dynamic.  Those scenes also helped to draw parallels between Ezekiel and Mylene’s journeys.

Mylene’s song “Set Me Free” is one of my favorite song of the summer.  It is so catchy and fun.  And of course, her vocals are spectacular.

The Get Down Brothers DJ battle song is indescribable.  I may have already memorized it…

Overall, The Get Down had a great soundtrack.  All of the songs flowed perfectly with the show’s plot and imagery.  The music created the perfect atmosphere for part one.  The combination of classics and new artists helped to connect the show to modern-day audiences and younger viewers.

I can’t wait to hear what music they have in store for us in part two.

The Directing

As expected with a Luhrmann production, the directing in The Get Down was spectacular.  The creative team captured the beauty of a crumbling, burning city.  There were several shots that were absolutely breathtaking.

One of my favorite cinematic moments was in the first episode when we were introduced to Shaolin.  Grandmaster Flash ordered Shaolin to get the Misty Holloway record.  Shaolin stood in an alleyway with the setting sun shining on him; his body was just a silhouette, with his head tilted towards his left shoulder.  It was a poignant, mysterious moment, emphasized by the set, staging, and lighting.

Another beautiful shot included Ezekiel and Mylene.  In episode five, the young lovers kissed on the fire escape.  The camera zoomed out, offsetting them on the left hand side of the screen as a glowing graffiti painted train passed by in the background.  1970s Bronx look so romantic in that moment.

The Framing

The first few episodes of The Get Down were framed with scenes of Ezekiel from the future (1996) performing on stage.  From the beginning of the film, we knew that Ezekiel made it; he became a professional rapper.  Older Ezekiel was the narrator of the story.  This framing device was used to recap what had happened in the previous episode.  This was a clever, artistic way of doing so and it didn’t take us out of the world of the story by saying “Previously on The Get Down…”  I just wish it was consistent.  The last two episodes lacked this framing device.

Along with that, at the start of each episode, the graffiti on the trains spelled out The Get Down‘s main title and the episode title.  This emphasized the importance of graffiti to the story.  As usual in a Luhrmann production, everything is always connected.

Welcome to the 1970s

The Get Down brought us back in time.  I had no idea how bad the Bronx was in the 1970s.  It was fascinating to see these characters’ lifestyles.  They were living in a city that was literally falling apart.  Drugs, poverty, and violence ravaged the city.  Music is what kept these characters alive.  It gave them strength to fight through the adversity.

Similar to Forrest GumpThe Get Down showed old clips from the 1970s that highlighted the events and turmoil during that time.  It made the show seem even more realistic.

I’m glad that the writers explored the LGBTQ culture, illustrating its importance to disco.  Just like people of color, they deserve to have more of their stories told.

It was fascinating to learn about hip-hop and disco.  Before now, I never really thought about how a new genre of music is born.  It was so fascinating to watch Shaolin find “the get down” section in each record.  Now, when I listen to hip-hop, I’m a more active listener; I can hear the get down.  I have a greater appreciation for the genre.

I appreciated the Star Wars references in The Get Down, especially since it was such a defining movie of the 1970s.  In the first episode, the characters discussed going to see the film.  In episode two, Ra-Ra said to Shaolin, “You know Obi-Wan Kenobi says ‘a jedi can feel the Force moving through him,'” drawing parallels between being a DJ and being a jedi.  Lastly, the Get Down Brothers opened their set for the DJ battle with the Star Wars theme.  What could be any more epic than that?

* * *

The Get Down has everything: clever writing, superb acting, artistic directing, and transcendent music.  There’s something for everyone.  Not only is it highly entertaining, it’s informative and insightful.  The Get Down is a story of hope, ambition, and friendship.  I will eagerly wait for its return with part two in 2017.

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