From visionary director Baz Luhrmann, responsible for Romeo+Juliet and the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, comes a new Netflix original series that aims to explore the emerging hip hop scene in 1970’s Bronx, New York. Ezekiel “Books” Figuero (Justice Smith) is naturally gifted with creating rhymes on the fly, but is often times too reserved to share them with the world. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola,) a gifted singer who’s desperate to leave the Bronx behind in search of a career in music. While the two share a passion, and Books is madly in love, Mylene fears being together would destroy her chances at achieving her dream, especially since Books is still trying to figure out his own dreams. However, his misguided nature just might change for the better when he’s introduced to Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a graffiti artist who launches Books into an underground party scene only referred to as “The Get Down”.
As you would expect from a Baz Luhrmann production, The Get Down can be visually stunning at times. From the decimated ruins of the ghetto slums in 1970’s Bronx, to the vibrant disco scene that serves as an escape for its citizens, Luhrmann’s knack for developing beautifully crafted on-screen sets and sequences is as strong as ever here. In fact, his love for the party scene in productions couldn’t feel more appropriate in The Get Down, as the dance sequences, the singing and the overall vibe perfectly resonates the highs and lows of living in 1970’s Bronx. The rampant drugs, the abusive families, the people trying desperately to either escape or fix everything, it’s all captured very well in the first episode alone.
In addition, we get some great on-screen moments between three lead characters Books, Mylene, and Fantastic, thanks to the energetic cast behind their individual roles. Shaolin Fantastic is a bit of an oddball in The Get Down’s 1970’s universe, being obsessed with cheesy kung-fu techniques, but his energy within the disco scene is easily one of the best things about his character. Likewise, the “will they/won’t they” lovebird characters of Books and Mylene have some heartfelt moments together too, which is strengthened by the time we’re given to develop why we should be rooting for both of them to achieve their dreams.
However, the visual wonder Baz Luhrmann is regarded for can be a bit of a double-edged sword. While he is well-known for creating beautiful scenery and shots, Luhrmann’s also been known to write fairly one-dimensional characters. And boy, let me tell you, there are a lot of them here in episode one. Aside from the three leads, who do have their moments together, the supporting cast is given very little to work with, and leave no lasting impact on the viewer, coming off only as bland, boring, and unmemorable in the worst ways possible. There are so many of these bland supporting characters thrown at you in this episode alone, that the pilot becomes unfocused and directionless, trying to provide too many interchanging stories at once. Which is saying a lot, considering that the pilot is an hour and a half long, and it still manages to feel too long. When the only three interesting characters are left alone entirely for the story to focus on the forgettable supporting characters, it only serves as a detriment to what could be a good plot. Instead, it’s just an overstuffed, mediocre one.
And yet, despite being a bit of a mixed bag, the pilot episode of The Get Down does show promise for future chapters. While I would much rather prefer a memorably diverse cast of supporting characters, as opposed to a great visual style, there’s still enough love and care put into this piece that anyone could see the dedication put into making this, especially if you’re a fan of the blaxploitation era. However, The Get Down still has a long way to go in sharpening its storytelling, so it can be the great series it desperately wants to be. In the end, episode one of this new Netflix series indicates more or less the same for Baz Luhrmann. Whether that’s a positive or a negative may be entirely up to you.