There were a lot of strange and frustrating things about Netflix’s The Get Down, but perhaps the strangest was the way it was structured. Breaking with tradition, Netflix did not release the entire first season at once, but instead broke it into two parts: Six episodes released last summer, and five available now to stream. We loved Part 1 of The Get Down—as flawed as it was, there was nothing like it. A colorful ode to ’70s New York at disco’s peak and hip-hop’s birth, it was the story of a bunch of kids who wanted to escape their circumstances and be rap superheroes at a time where no one knew what rap was and the Bronx burned and politicians did little to stop it. And although it was billed as half a story, it felt complete enough to not feel cheap in its decision to break its narrative in half. So is Part 2 worth your time? In short, yes—but maybe prepare yourself first. This show starts to get real weird.
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It all starts simply enough: At the end of Part One, most of the cast is on their way to achieving a dream of some sort. Protagonist Ezekiel “Books” Figuero and his friends have formed The Get Down Brothers and become young vanguards of rap. He’s got an internship, and he’s thinking about college. Mylene Cruz, the preacher’s daughter with the show-stopping voice, is on her way to becoming a disco queen. She’s got a record deal, and everyone in her orbit is catapulting to success. Part Two, however, is all about pressure. The bargains Books and Mylene made to get a foothold on a way out of the Bronx are starting to backfire, and the cast of characters around them begin to close in and conspire to keep them where they were at the start. It’s also, tonally, all over the place, with animated interludes, bangin’ club scenes, heavy drama, and a Inferno-esque descent into madness that you will not see coming. But it’s all worth it.
A big part of The Get Down is concerned with futures, and who gets to have them. Books, a Bronx-born Latino, tries hard to impress at a Yale mixer, but is constantly reminded he doesn’t belong. Shaolin Fantastic (The Lady-Killing Romantic), Books’ best friend and DJ, is also a tether keeping him tied to the hood, the sort of drug-dealing troublemaker the respectable white people of educated society aren’t interested in giving a chance to. Mylene finds success, but loses her agency, as her father (played by Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito) demands she use her fame to help fill his church’s pews, while her record label pushes her to embrace her sex appeal to boost sales and publicity. It’s a story where those who try to become upwardly mobile and better their circumstances are reminded of their place by those with the real power and influence, a story about a bunch of kids who want to escape the circumstances they were born with but are constantly shut out. So they cheat their way out. With music.
The show doesn’t half-ass anything, even its bad ideas.
This is The Get Down‘s saving grace—it’s straightforward earnestness. It’s characters are played with conviction, even if their words are more than a little clumsy. Lead actor Justice Smith, as Books, is a particular strength, carrying an unevenly written character arc with naked conviction that’s moving in spite of some of the writing. The rest of the cast is incredible, too—Shameik Moore (Shaolin Fantastic) deserves to be a huge star, and fresher faces like Herizen F. Guardiola (who plays Mylene Cruz) and Skylan Brooks (who plays the baby-faced Ra-Ra) are a damn delight to watch, killing it alongside more familiar supporting players like Jimmy Smits and Kevin Corrigan.
It also has Jaden Smith in the most Jaden Smith role imaginable, one that finds his character, Dizzy, continually imagining himself as an animated super-enlightened alien, narrating the adventures of The Get Down Brothers in comic book form. These interludes never really makes sense, and are never really good, but they’re weird in a memorable way. In fact, when The Get Down is at its worst—namely, in the penultimate episode, which is reminiscent of Moulin Rouge in its feverish mania, marching its characters towards a weird burlesque hell in a manner that feels like it’s from another show entirely—it remains transfixing. The show doesn’t half-ass anything, even its bad ideas. And besides, there are only five new episodes, so why not check them out?