Of all my pop-culture obsessions, the most enduring are my love of music and anything involving the ’70s. So if a movie or TV show puts these things together, there’s a good chance I’ll get overexcited. Like back in January, when I watched a few episodes of Vinyl and immediately overhyped it as “more fun than a barrel full of coked-out monkeys.” Friends tuned in and were like, “Really?” Everybody else was all, “Next!” Then HBO pulled the plug, and I felt mighty sheepish.
Now comes The Get Down. The new Netflix series—the first six episodes debut Friday, with another six coming next year—is yet another music-based show set in ’70s-era New York, this time in the Bronx, where the last days of disco laid the foundation for hip-hop. Before I start barking like a seal again, I’m going to take a deep breath and take this slowly, step by step. So here are five reasons why The Get Down could actually be special.
1. It looks like $120 million. Though production for the show was anything but smooth, with multiple delays bloating the budget into the highest in TV history, all that extra time and money went to good use. A ton of CGI clearly helped re-create the urban blight of the Carter years, but it all looks convincingly sanded-down and archival. Remember how that Stonewall movie from last year just looked cheap and ineffective? It’s thrilling when history gets the epic, Hollywood-caliber treatment it deserves.
2. It’s made by Baz Luhrmann. The idea of Luhrmann bedazzling hip-hop’s genesis the way he bedazzled The Great Gatsby made me squeamish at first. But haven’t we already seen gritty, docu-dramatic takes on this story? Luhrmann’s Bronx is a hyperreal fantasyland bathed in otherworldly light, where the discos are Technicolor ecstasy and the b-boys are literal superheroes. Their Pumas actually make schwing noises as they leap from roof to roof.
3. The music, y’all. I won’t comment on the original songs, for fear of overstatement, but they do mix nicely with the expert selection of period music, from metallic funk (Hot Chocolate’s “Heaven Is in the Backseat of My Cadillac”) to deep disco (CJ & Co.’s “Devil’s Gun”) and even Krautrock (Can’s “Vitamin C”). Early hip-hop was nothing if not eclectic.
4. Another ace ensemble cast. Between this and Stranger Things, Netflix has the whole retro, teen-misfits-unite thing in the bag. Where Vinyl shortchanged its characters by cramming too many storylines into each episode, The Get Down keeps it lean with a taut coming-of-age tale about the fledgling poet, graffiti artist and wannabe DJ who make up the Fantastic Four Plus One. Space prohibits me from naming too many names, but I will say this: Justice Smith, who plays the poet, cries even more convincingly than Claire Danes.
5. It’s so much better than Vinyl! Okay, that’s like saying something’s better than Fifty Shades of Grey, but I mean it! Vinyl had so much squandered potential, and The Get Down feels like it’s out to make the most of itself. But I should hush up before I say something I regret. It’s not the greatest show I’ve ever seen. It’s just the greatest show I’ve seen this week.