6 moments when 'The Get Down' really got up and moved
Perhaps because the production was so troubled, perhaps because Baz Luhrmann is new to television, or perhaps because Luhrmann's always had a wandering attention span as a storyteller, Netflix's The Get Down is a show of great moments that only occasionally coheres into something more than that.
Its six hours so far feature maybe two or two and a half hours worth of story, with certain beats repeated too often, and leaning at time too much on thin characters and/or performances. But at least a few times per episode — usually, but not always, when the music started pumping and the characters started moving — The Get Down would roar to vivid life and inspire me to forgive its many flaws to see what other magic Luhrmann and his collaborators could occasionally work.
For those of you who watched all six over the weekend — and thus aren't averse to spoilers — here are six moments that particularly stood out to me over the course of the first half of this first season, coming up just as soon as I do not underestimate the crayon...
Mylene has her 'Seven-Year Itch' momentPhoto Credit: Netflix
This is a small moment, in the midst of a busy pilot loaded with disco and hip-hop and kung fu references, but it really stuck with me. As Mylene and Ezekiel are on their way to Les Inferno, Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" comes on the soundtrack, and a breeze sweeps up Mylene's slinky dress, evoking the most iconic shot of Marilyn Monroe's career — but in a trash-strewn outer borough location. It's Luhrmann and company laying down a gauntlet about the way that these new forms of culture may have come from less respectable places than what the public was used to, but were no less capable of becoming iconic in their own right.
Ezekiel and Cadillac have a dance-offPhoto Credit: Netflix
On the whole, the Les Inferno characters — all of them out of one blaxploitation movie or another — feel like one genre mash-up too many for the series, and the return of Cadillac and Fat Annie is the part of the show I'm least looking forward to seeing return. But that disco contest sequence with Ezekiel, Cadillac, and Mylene is straight fire, at once shamelessly ripping off Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Saturday Night Fever, yet coursing with an energy all its own. Mylene's a less dynamic personality than the show seems to think she is, but it doesn't matter right then and there.
Mylene turns the church choir sinfulPhoto Credit: Netflix
The Ed Bianchi-directed second episode is for the most part flatter and saner than the Luhrmann-helmed premiere, and your mileage will vary on which you prefer. (I say go full Luhrmann with this, or don't bother.) But then the scheme to get Cruz's music producer buddy Jackie Moreno turns a pure church service into something much wilder, pretending to be speaking in tongues as an excuse to move to the front of the stage, then blasting Jackie and the congregants with enough sexy disco flair to make her father's eyes nearly pop out of his skull. It's the exact showcase she, and the series, need to shake off an otherwise dull and uninspiring stretch.
Cruz hits the campaign trailPhoto Credit: Netflix
I'm cheating with this one a bit, in that pretty much any moment where Cruz is using a microphone, a bullhorn, or just the acoustics of a room to get his point across kept me interested even when other parts of The Get Down were dragging. Jimmy Smits has had a really fascinating second act to his career. Going full character actor, without the burden of coolness that sometimes pulled down his younger leading man roles, has obviously been a delight for him, and he tears into this role for all it's worth. (He's able to have more fun with it than Giancarlo Esposito can as Cruz's repressed brother.) The climactic scene cutting between the Ed Koch rally and the rap battle (more below) would be dynamic as hell in its own right, but starting it off with a thunderous Cruz trying to keep the crowd warmed up while Koch is running late only added to the suspense and power of it all.
Dizz meets the drag queensPhoto Credit: Netflix
It's hard to tell in some of the early episodes what kind of direction Luhrmann and others were giving Jaden Smith. Was Dizz's affect meant to be a put-on, or sincere? Was he just more sensitive than his brothers, or different in ways beyond that? It's a performance, and character, that stands out, and particularly in the sequence where Dizz's beautiful new friend Thor takes him to an underground club where he gets his first look at New York's gay subculture, complete with drag queens, vogueing, and Mylene's favorite DJ. Whatever Dizz's sexuality turns out to be, you can tell this is the kind of place he didn't realize he'd been waiting his whole life to see, and there's a sense The Get Down itself has been itching to present this scene in the same way.
The rap battlePhoto Credit: Netflix
Not gonna lie: I've watched this sequence at least a half-dozen times already. There's always the danger in stories about fictional artists — i.e., The Studio 60 Problem — that the artist won't seem nearly as brilliant as we're supposed to believe. And there are occasionally moments — more in the present-day framing sequences with Daveed Diggs than when Justice Smith is playing Ezekiel — when our hero seems less the trailblazing MC than the show wants him to seem. But when Ezekiel, Dizz, Ra Ra, Boo, and Shaolin Fantastic are all on stage together in the climax, using the combined power of their rhymes and Shaolin's spinning to overcome the rival crew's more impressive sound system, it's every bit as thrilling as it needs to be, and then some, especially as the desperate early stages of the battle are contrasted with Ezekiel being stuck at the rally as Ed Koch badmouths everything he and his friends are about. Every bit of their performance — the different rhyme schemes, Shaolin switching up the records and playing Mylene's track at just the right moment, etc. — comes together just as perfectly as the series' otherwise disparate stylistic techniques do there. The Get Down Brothers' victory bought the rest of season 1 a whole lot of rope from me when it arrives next year.