Get Down With “The Get Down”

Netflix’s period musical may have been cancelled, but its legacy will live on in its place.


Get Down With “The Get Down”

Netflix’s period musical may have been cancelled, but its legacy will live on in its place.

There is a long list of television shows that ended early, who in spite of their short runs made monumental impact on the shows that came after them. “Arrested Development,” which ended after season three helped paved the way for other single-camera sitcoms like “30 Rock” and “Community.” The show “Freaks and Geeks,” was acclaimed by fans and launched the careers of almost all its stars even if it failed to find an audience during the time it ran. Added to the list of shows that got cancelled too early is “The Get Down,” a period drama that was dropped by Netflix.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Get Down,” here are some fast facts: It’s a period drama that was created by Baz Luhrmann set in the 1970s in South Bronox during the beginning of hip-hop and disco. If the name of Baz Luhrmann sounds familiar it’s probably because of the fact he’s become a staple in every English class for his twist on “Romeo and Juliet,” which featured a modern day setting and Leo DiCaprio. Luhrmann, whose talent with elaborate musicals can be seen from his work in the Oscar-nominated “Moulin Rouge,” made his television debut with “The Get Down.”

The show is told through the eyes of a group of teenagers, specifically Ezekiel Figuero, a poet whose potential has his teachers scheming to get him out of the Bronx and into college. However, he winds up falling into the music scene after meeting the mysterious, yet charismatic Shaolin Fantastic, while also getting more into the dangers behind living in South Bronx.

Now there are many reasons behind why Netflix cancelled the show. Luhrmann admitted he wasn’t going to direct season two, saying “The simple truth is, I make movies,” in a statement released after the show’s cancellation. Not to mention the show was also ridiculously expensive to produce, clocking in at an estimate $10 million for each episode.

There were probably more reasons than the two for Netflix to drop the show, but this isn’t about that. It’s about the fact there are lessons to be learned from “The Get Down” for future films and television shows, even with its short run.

For “The Get Down,” diversity isn’t just a sidenote, it’s a piece on the show’s architecture. The cast is one of the most diverse, with the entire main cast all being people of color. The importance of this is huge, as even with the rise of diversity on television, there hasn’t been enough progress to make a dent in the serious race problem that dominates the film industry.

Like “Freaks and Geeks,” the cast also consists of both fresh faces and actors we’ve seen before. These are all people starting out in the industry hoping to be established names, and this could be the beginning of careers for these actors who could become household names who are just starting their careers.

But it goes beyond the cast too, and each character is just as fleshed out as the other. Ezekiel, the show’s protagonist, comes from a world of violence starting the moment he witnessed both his parents die by gun violence; the Juliet to his Romeo, Mylene, comes from an abusive and conservative upbringing; and Shaolin Fantastic, Ezekiel’s best friend, is an orphan who comes from a background of tragedy and manipulation by his boss Fat Annie. Even the Kipling brothers, who come from a loving, and supportive home struggle living in a place as dangerous as the Bronx.

However, in spite of these tragedies the characters in “The Get Down,” never lose hope. Mylene pursues a career in music at full force to achieve her dreams to become a disco singer, eventually becoming a girl group with her two best friends. Ezekiel struggles between an internship and music but never rests to allow both be a part of his life. Shaolin Fantastic, who has lost everything, finds friendship and brotherhood with both Ezekiel and the Kipling brothers.

The relationships “The Get Down” explores are crucial too, while Mylene and Ezekiel’s “Romeo and Juliet” relationship leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat, and Thor and Dizzee’s adoration for each other makes your heart melt, it’s the friendships that drive the show. The brotherhood and sisterhood between the characters on “The Get Down” is so powerful.

Similar to “Moonlight,” the show depicts the relationships black men have with other black men. Like “Moonlight,” the show takes place in a world where drugs and crime are common and from past experience it’s easy for shows or films to depict stereotypes for black men because of this. However, the characters on show don’t allow each other to get washed away amidst their dangerous world. Rather, they show intimacy and trust with one another as the show progresses, even revealing themselves them at their most vulnerable. The biggest examples of this is the friendship between Shaolin Fantastic and Ezekiel and the rest of the Kipling brothers as Shaolin, a lone wolf who grew up in a world of manipulation and crime, gradually trusts and becomes protective of his friends, the Get Down brothers.

Female friendships also are crucial on this show as seen with Mylene and her best friends. Starting from the first episode, Mylene’s friends do everything to help her achieve her dream of becoming a singer and she does the same by creating Mylene Cruz and the Soul Madonnas in hopes of helping her friends escape the Bronx. The three women never tear the other down, but instead support each other in helping the other achieve their dreams.

Each character had their own tragedies and backgrounds, which colored the larger of life landscape that was the show. It wasn’t the flashy effects or the expensive cinematography that made you fall in love with “The Get Down,” it was seeing characters that were fleshed out having their stories be told. It was giving the spotlight to teenagers and seeing the world through their eyes.

Another thing was how hard the show hit issues relevant to today. My former film professor used to say that period dramas are created to explore themes in a time that will make it easier to be understood by audiences. “The Get Down” uses its 1970s setting to show the corruption in government and police brutality, as well the struggles being a person of color in a place where its very easy to get mixed up with crime. But the thing is none of the main characters are bad people, and we see that. They’re just kids lost in a world that demonizes them.

Future filmmakers, take note. This is the direction television both needs to go and will be going toward. Better start hopping on the train now rather than later.