When I first heard of the new Netflix series “The Get Down,” it was described as a group of teenagers trying to find their way through the Bronx 40 years ago, living and participating in a new hip-hop era that would soon shake the Bronx. Though this description is not invalid, in my humble opinion, it just doesn’t do the show enough justice. When I found myself sitting in my mother’s apartment binge-watching the first season with her in the span of two days, that was not the description that ran through my head.
“The Get Down,” written by a duo of writers comprised of Stephen Adly Guirgis and Baz Luhrmann (the Hollywood director also known for his work in “The Great Gatsby” and “Romeo + Juliet”), has a plot that delves much deeper than just a group of teenagers. The show is set in the South Bronx, New York, of 1977 and brings with it all the diversity you can expect from such an era and location.
It could be argued that the main character is Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero [Justice Smith], but with a show such as the “Get Down,” there is no such thing as one main character. “The Get Down” cast is a massive tour de force featuring new and a few known names, including Jaden Smith.
The show starts off with the narrator, an older Zeke, telling the story of his hip-hop success to an audience while on stage. We, the audience, are then brought into Zeke’s past. We see the Bronx of Ezekiel’s youth throughout the story, filled with Jamaican restaurants, record shops, black-owned hair salons and much more.
Early on, Zeke describes the relationships he has with his friends, to the love he feels for Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola). We see this love just as Zeke sees it: boundless and powerful beyond measure. Throughout the first season, Zeke shows his love through being determined to make something of himself for Mylene’s as well as his own sake through the most prevalent similarity they have in common: their love for music. As Mylene is determined to leave the Bronx and become a disco singer, Zeke in turn becomes driven to start a career as an MC to fulfill his wish of joining Mylene outside of the Bronx.
Justice Smith plays this role perfectly, giving us a both realistic and honest portrayal. Jaden Smith gives life to his character Dizzee, while also infusing it with his own persona, as evident in Episode 5. Herizen Guardiola owns her breakout role, leaving a valuable imprint in the mind of viewers.
The music throughout the show shadows much of the music of the time period, from disco to R&B to the birth of rap, giving us a taste of what was and what currently is with a modern spin. As this is essentially a show about the onset of hip-hop, the music is vital.
Zeke, in spite of temporary rejection, is pushed into the hip-hop world with outstanding force. He meets Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), who later becomes his best friend as well as what can only be defined as a DJ. The show begins to drift between the paths Shaolin, Zeke and Mylene take to urge their dreams onward. Throughout the season, cultural and societal themes are presented, all tied into the characters’ personal conflicts. From Zeke’s friend Dizzee’s discovery of his sexuality to the heavy influence that Catholicism plays in Hispanic families, the issues in “The Get Down” are relevant, not just to the era of the show but today as well. Many teens today struggle with their sexuality and even wander around not knowing themselves in this way or even being conflicted between their dreams and their parents’ dreams and virtues.
The rest of the season is filled with a cinematic magic you’ll have to see to understand. Shot with enigmatic excellence, I found myself captivated with every frame. The acting of each character, no matter how minor, is impeccable and utterly believable. Even if you don’t have Netflix, I say it’s worth the purchase just to see this show. With the second part of season one coming on April 7, “The Get Down” is a show you can’t let pass you by.
Billaé is a 16-year-old sophomore at Tucker High School and part time Eazy-E enthusiast.