Last summer was Straight Outta Compton, this summer it’s time to Get Down. The brand new Netflix show tells the history behind the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx during the late 70s. Baz Luhrmann, director of the wildly kinetic, hyper-visualized Leonardo DiCaprio starring Romeo + Juliet and the lavishly opulent The Great Gatsby, helms this large-scale production which could be the next surprise summer hit.
Early trailers give a good sense of the style in store. The show feels like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge meets Boogie Nights. This drama follows a group of teens who express themselves by creating a whole new genre of music. They find poetic ways to lyrically speak over looped beats sampled from vinyl records. There’s a certain magic witnessing an artist during the creative process. It’s even more mesmerizing when it’s the birth of a culture told from a historical point of view.
The main story is split between an aspiring poet and a disco singer trying to prove herself to her family during the beginning of the hip-hop era. Both artists are galvanized by the discovery of rap music. With the main characters cast as unknowns, the audience will see the actor as their character, building a stronger emotional connection for when conflict arises.
While the main principles are fresh-faced actors new to the screen, there are some rather compelling co-stars. Impressive television heavyweights, Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), add some gravitas to the show. Rising stars like Shameik Moore (the star of last year’s indie hidden gem Dope) get a chance to break through into the mainstream.
Luhrmann blends the soap opera with the musical, complimenting the drama with fully choreographed dance numbers. The music highlighted in each episode will include classic hits and original songs created specifically to reflect characters and their stories. Luhrmann spent 10 years developing the series to ensure it was done the right way.
The involvement of hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash automatically gives The Get Down a certified stamp of approval. The lyricist behind the iconic 1982 hit “The Message” lived the history, helping to create the rap genre in the Bronx. 90s hip-hop star Nas supervises the music, creating original songs for the show, adding another layer of authenticity.
Life was particularly difficult in the decaying inner-cities. The show won’t shy away from depicting the cultural divide in the city. Luhrmann said, “In this borough, which had so little, which apparently the city had forgotten, these young people were inventive with whatever they had.”
At first, The Get Down was intended to be a feature film, but Luhrmann saw so much opportunity to tell a larger story. While the focus is on music, the spotlight also shines on all the factors that attributed to hip-hop culture from its roots. Actors were drilled in boot camp to spin records and break-dance to assure historical accuracy and convey the true spirit of everything hip-hop.
Co-star Jimmy Smits nails the shows message, “You have this social track going on and these beautiful seeds that flower. No matter the oppression or burning buildings or drugs, there was hope. The music was an expression of that social consciousness.”
Unconventional storytelling will keep viewers on their toes, providing a refreshing approach to history. Luhrmann’s films always crackle with energy. Astounding visuals and extravagant music sequences give the director every opportunity to embellish the passion behind these artists.
With these extended musical numbers and attention to detail with the period setting, the high-budget soared. Luhrmann was essentially making a 12 hour movie. This level of production is rarely seen on television. However, Netflix stands behind its creators, insisting the director act as show-runner after helming the 90 minute feature-length series premiere.
The streaming service is now focused on delivering big budget entertainment focused on quality and vision. In fact, The Get Down is the most expensive television show ever, costing over $120 million. Because of the extended production, Netflix will release the first 6 episodes at once, with the remaining half of the season to debut at a later time.
Fans of hip-hop will get the rare chance to celebrate the genre and dive into history. The audience will root for the underdogs to express themselves while creating a whole new musical genre that would soon take over the entire industry.
Will The Get Down be better than Empire? Will you tune in for the music? Will you tune in for the history? Is the big budget feature film approach a sign of things to come from television?
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Season 1 premieres today, August 12, 2016 on Netflix.