Part 2 of Netflix’s The Get Down was made available on April 7. The second chapter of Baz Luhrmann’s series resumes telling the story of the rise of hip-hop in New York City through the eyes of a fictional group of kids known as The Get Down Brothers. The show is partly historical in observing the musical revolution in the context of 70’s New York City where politicians were looking for solutions to the rise of drug dealing and other organized crime. Its characters are touched by every part of this world as they get completely swept up in the culture and politics of New York at the time.
The story primarily centers around Ezekiel Figuero (Justice Smith) who is a brilliant young man seemingly trapped between the streets of New York and his potential in academics. His poetry serves as both the fuel on the fire of the new musical movement and as an exercise in his intellectual prowess. His Ivy League aspirations were relatively unheard of for a young black boy in the Bronx in the 1970s. Part 2 begins to diverge into telling the stories of some of its other characters, but the episodes don’t lose focus on Zeke. Instead, they observe how the other figures are shaping his development. The narrative is guided by frequent flash forwards to an adult Zeke performing a massive concert and rapping about the events that led him there. Primarily he discusses his friends from his youth led by his mentor Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore).
Zeke’s story is complimented by the musical aspirations of his girlfriend Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) who aspires to be the next big disco star. Her rise in a religious family frequently brings her and Zeke together and tears them apart. The pair do provide an ample and diverse selection of original music that is somehow both modern and of its time. It is 70s music with a 21st century flair that is both exciting and nostalgic, which is incidentally the best way to describe The Get Down.
The series really allows Luhrmann to flex his muscles when it comes to pairing music with film. His filmography, including Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby is packed with creative music and lavish production design. The Get Down is no different. It has a grainy look and a color palette that screams 70s New York, but the cinematography is dynamic and spectacular. As you watch the musical scenes you often feel as if you’re dancing and singing along with the characters. The modern and active feel that drove audiences away in a period drama like The Great Gatsby fits right in with The Get Down. Luhrmann even makes heavy use of animation in part 2 as a completely different way to portray the misadventures of his characters, pushing them into an almost comic book-like world at times.
One thing that helps The Get Down with its dichotomous visual and musical style is its ever shifting tone. It can be wildly funny one moment and shift on a dime to heavy drama. The characters, enraptured by drug trafficking and violence, not to mention the usual drama of growing up, are often faced with difficult situations. But the fantastical and sometimes cartoonishly stylish characters also provide a laugh or two as they settle disputes with dance offs as often as they settle them with guns. Aspiring music producer and dancer Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is not only chasing these dreams, but he’s also the enforcer for his crime family. He’s an unforgiving tough guy and somehow still a romantic. His style is to such an extreme that he’s almost a caricature, but in the world Luhrmann creates Cadillac is right at home.
Without a doubt The Get Down is a hidden gem on Netflix’s lineup of original programming. The show is endlessly fun, the music is catchy, it is a beauty to look at, and the characters create an instant connection. Even Jaden Smith’s performance as Dizzee is laudable as he plays a peculiar young man who refers to himself as an “alien” and chases profundity in a way that must be inspired by the real-life Jaden. The Get Down is often overshadowed by some of the more popular shows on the site, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a musical-comedy-drama-history that is not to be missed. It is unclear what the future of the show is, but now that both parts of Season 1 are in the books I am hopeful that it will be making a loud and dazzling return very soon.