Stop Getting Down on The Get Down

by thethreepennyguignol

Critics are arseholes. I know, because I am one. We’re impossible to please, even when you think you’ve come up with something infallible. Christ, there’s even been a backlash against the nigh-on flawless Stranger Things. If that isn’t untouchable, we might as well all give up now. Just cancel TV and save us all the trouble.

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Speaking of critics and Netflix Originals, you might have become aware of the fact that The Get Down is currently getting pretty soundly shat on by the critical world. Aside from a few vague nods for the actors and some of the cinematography, the show has been roundly pissed upon by critics, which took me by surprise as it looked like such critical catnip. Historical, biographical, with Baz Lurhman (like him or lump him) attached- surely someone could find some merit in this mess? Apparently not. When I sat down to watch it a few nights ago, my expectations were dramatically low. I was expecting a smattering of style assuaged by absolutely no substance, as the show attempted to trace the rise of hip-hop in the late-seventies Bronx.

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But, praise be, I actually loved it. Yes, I do generally fall in on the assholery of critical disdain, but the fact that this show has taken such a critical mauling makes both perfect sense and no sense at all.

I mean, yes, the show is a mess. It’s a fucking mess. With a sprawling central cast, a messy soundtrack that draws on everything from disco to punk to rap, and a style that draws on everything from kung-fu movies to magical realism to The Warriors with a sprinkle of Dreamgirls chucked on in there, it’s a flailing state and I understand where those criticisms come from. It underserves a handful of characters (most notably, the excellent Giancarlo Esposito, whose name is ringing a bell because he played Gus on Breaking Bad and if that hasn’t made you want to watch this show right now nothing will), and yes, it does devolve into cheese every now and then.

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But fuck it, you know what? At least it’s something different. Every downside can be easily spun into one of it’s strength- yes, The Get Down draws on a crazy variety of genres, all the better to depict the self-mythologizing¬†nature of the music its trying to capture. Yes, it underserves some of it’s older characters, but all the better to explore the phenomenal younger cast- Justice Smith nails the oft-thankless leading role, while might-as-well-be-newcomers Shameik Moore and Mamoudou Athie (who plays a young Grandmaster Flash) light up the screen as his companions in his journey into hip-hop. Herizen Guardiola has charm to spare as the co-lead, while even Jaden Smith is perfectly cast as a mid-level pretentious graffiti artist. And when it explodes into emotion, yeah, sometimes it tips over into the cheesy, but again, this show revolves around a bunch of teenagers, and what doesn’t feel cataclysmic and vital and world-ending at sixteen, seventeen?

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Yes, this show is flawed. Maybe too much for some people. But it’s also fucking brilliant. The direction is sheer magic, and the world that the writers and actors create is fascinating, expansive and immersive. As a fan of Baz Lurhman myself, I didn’t mind his sweeping and enormous direction for the pilot, but even if you do, he’s only around for one episode. The Get Down is a set of rules unto itself, and if you don’t like the boundaries it sets out, that sucks for you. Because as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the sharpest, brightest, most original shows on TV- and will always earn points just for it’s sheer force of will in my book.

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