Netflix banked big on nostalgia with Stranger Things and it paid off, and the streaming subscription service hopes to capture lightning in a bottle again with the 1970s music-based drama The Get Down. The good news is that this fascination with nostalgia works for both series, but in completely different ways.
The Get Down takes place in 1977 New York, specifically the Bronx, right at the height of disco and just before the birth of rap and hip hop. Much like Stranger Things, though, the time and setting are a backdrop for the story of several young people, including a teen boy, Ezekial, who has a beautiful way with words and a teen girl, Mylene, who wants to escape her overtly-devout Christian father to become the next Donna Summer. There stories lead them to pursue their dreams.
But Stranger Things was a horror and sci-fi tale. The Get Down is a little more real and down to earth. Fans of Baz Luhrmann will appreciate the spectacle of The Get Down, although this time, the setting is not so much glitz and glamor. Instead, this is a world of graffiti, smoke, drugs and guns. Of course, this is still an idealistic concept of the world that created the first rap song, so nothing is too over the top and the focus remains solely on the characters.
And the characters is where The Get Down shines. Justice Smith as Ezekial shows us a boy who has hopes, but lives in the reality that his dreams will probably never come true. His number one goal, though, is to win the heart of Mylene, and his pain in her constant rejection, feels real. Smith plays the character with heart and it’s hard not to like him. Herizen F. Guardiola as Mylene is also a charismatic figure on-screen, with a singing voice that would lift up the angels. Shameik Moore stands out as the infamous graffiti artist, Shaolin Fantastic, a character that might have easily become a caricature had another actor tackled him. The supporting cast is solid, too, including adult actors Jimmy Smits as a real estate developer wanting to turn life around for his people and Giancarlo Esposito as Mylene’s over-protective father.
But a tale about the rise of hip hop is nothing without music, and The Get Down soundtrack isn’t just about disco, but also includes other musical styles that emerged at the time, including punk. The music plays into the legend of how rap began, leading up to the boys eventually hooking up with none other than Grandmaster Flash himself.
The Get Down pulls all these elements together in that beautiful Luhrmann style that fans are familiar with and brings a compelling new story to the screen.
Rating: (4.5 / 5)