Netflix’ The Get Down spawned rumors of an overblown budget amid multiple production delays, but early reviews suggest that director Baz Luhrmann extravagant gamble may prove to be the summer’s break out TV hit. Chronicling the birth of hip hop in the South Bronx, the series blends fantasy and reality with a young Black and Latino cast.
‘The Get Down’ – The Story
The Get Down follows a group of teenagers in the South Bronx in 1977, when the Bronx was a dangerous neighborhood in ruins, disco was in its last days, and hip hop was on the verge of being born.
The Get Down stars Shameik Moore (Shaolin Fantastic), Justice Smith (Ezekiel Figuero, aka Books), Herizen Guardiola (Mylene Cruz), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Cadillac), Jaden Smith (Dizzee Kipling), Skylan Brooks (Ra-Ra Kipling), Tremaine Brown Jr. (Boo-Boo Kipling), Mamoudou Athie (Grandmaster Flash), Jimmy Smits (Francisco Cruz aka Papa Fuerte), and Giancarlo Esposito (Ramon Cruz).
The teenage characters central to The Get Down struggle with family dramas and the crumbling, violent South Bronx hood. Each of the characters displays a super power and talent. For Dizzee it’s graffiti, while Shaolin discovers a talent for rapping. Amid the chaos of their environment, they create hip hop and a new world for themselves.
Part coming-of-age tale and part superhero story, The Get Down pairs the gritty realities of the day with splashes of fantasy, stylized action scenes, and an exuberant energy. It goes along with Baz Luhrmann‘s ideas about young people from the South Bronx during the era, as he told New York Times reporters.
“They actually lived their magical realism. They had a magical reality.”
— New York Times Arts (@nytimesarts) August 5, 2016
Baz Luhrmann And ‘The Get Down’
The New York Times review talks about the “unusual, provocative energy of this show.” It’s a cinematic tone that Baz Luhrmann established with films like Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. The production ran into a few speed bumps along the way to perfecting its look and feel, running into multiple delays and a budget that reputedly swelled to $120 million. Filming took two and a half years and it ended up one of the most expensive productions in TV history.
The costs may not have unduly phased Netflix executives, who have spent an estimated $1.7 billion on original productions this year alone. According to a News Corp Australia Network report, Baz Luhrmann has a history of overrun budgets and production delays, yet still remains one of Australia’s most successful directors. The Get Down is Baz Luhrmann’s first time in the director’s chair of an American TV series.
Changes to the creative team changed, causing some of the delays, but Netflix pulled together an impressive group of collaborators to produce The Get Down. Along with Baz Luhrmann, the creative team includes hip hop luminaries Nas as executive producer and songwriter, and Grandmaster Flash as associate producer and consultant. Co-creator and executive producer Stephen Adly Guirgis is a Pulitzer Prize winner and another executive producer, Catherine Martin, is a four-time Oscar winner.
Early reviews of the show are largely positive. The New York Daily News says the film is “gorgeously directed” and calls Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays flamboyant club owner Cadillac, the “break out star” of the series. Mateen told The New York Daily News that he credits the show’s positive reception to the authentic flavor of the production.
“We had Grandmaster Flash on set, so there wasn’t a lot in there that he was gonna let fly if it wasn’t authentic.”
Variety calls The Get Down “both messy and wonderful” along with “ridiculously expensive.”
— RCA Records (@RCARecords) August 5, 2016
‘The Get Down’ – The Music
The Get Down itself refers to the essence of a hip hop track, a four-measure kernel at the heart of a song. The teenagers who end up in a crew called “The Fantastic Four Plus One” and their search for the get down and how to perfect it fuel the fantastical plot.
In 1977, that involved trying to isolate samples from two turntables spinning vinyl, and technology that was hard to come by in the South Bronx. Along with a real life role as executive producer, Grandmaster Flash is also a character in the show, as played by Mamadou Athie. He becomes a kind of guru to the teens as they begin to master their art.
Pitchfork just premiered Cadillac by Miguel, one of the songs from The Get Down soundtrack, which will be released by RCA Records and House of Iona on August 12, the same day as the TV series. The Get Down soundtrack also includes songs by Nas, Grandmaster Flash, and Nile Rodgers, among others.
Part realism, part eccentric fantasy, the show’s success will depend on whether its contradictions and unique tones can find a regular audience. The Get Down will be released on Netflix on August 12, 2016.
[Image via Netflix]