Boogie Nights: Music, Youth, and Joy in Netflix’s The Get Down

The second season of Netflix’s ‘The Get Down’ has premiered this Friday and I am ecstatic for it as it was one of my favorite shows of last year. I’m not a person to binge watch shows,however, The Get Down was an exception. It’s a hero’s journey told through the eyes of a love sick boy in the Bronx, named Zeke. The first season of The Get Down is one part musical drama, comic narrative, and coming of age story packed into a 6 episodes.The Get Down is nothing you have never seen before; at its core telling the story of a group of friends with the backdrop of the Bronx in the 70s. A coming of age story that centers the joy of black and latinx people is necessary for the time of political turmoil.

The series opens up with Zeke, in a flash forward to the year 1996, we see glimpses of an older version of Zeke played by Daveed Diggs. This scene is how each episode of The Get Down begins, with a rap, letting the audience know that this show is of epic proportions. Older Zeke serves a grit given insight to each episode before they begin. It should be noted rap legend Nas provides the voice over and raps for the show.

With the first episode, like most series introductory episodes they are longer than the standard episodes. This is no different than the total duration 92 minutes, we are introduced to Zeke (Justice Smith), a young man who lives with his aunt and her boyfriends in the Bronx. Zeke writes poetry about his crush Mylene, who constantly rejects him. Typical teenage ordeals. Zeke is a troubled sort, very introspective and orphaned, he is very talented but misguided. We are then introduced to his love interest, Mylene (Herizon F. Guardiola), the daughter of a pastor who imagines herself leaving the Bronx to pursuing singing. The two have a symbiotic relationship, Zeke plays piano at the church Mylene’s father pastors at. However, when they are not attending church and Zeke is playing music for her to sing to as she records her demo. Mylene is a powerful vocalist, who likens herself to be the next Donna Summer and she is adamant about pursuing her dream. So adamant in fact that despite her parents wishes she creates music in secrecy, but plans to sneak into the local nightclub Les Inferno to garner the attention of a famous DJ. Wanting to impress her Zeke plots to buy her favorite record and have the DJ play it at Les Inferno during as she’s dancing. We then meet other kids that live in their neighborhood the Kipling siblings (Yolanda, Ra-Ra, Boo Boo and Dizzee) and Regina Diaz.

The crew is like most kids, are trying to find themselves, hanging close, and staying out of trouble. The biggest glue keeping them all together is music, Disco, Gospel, and a new genre called Hip-Hop. Without giving too much away their dreams bring them unforeseen circumstances as they meet a mysterious young man named Shaolin Fantastic (portrayed by Shameik Moore). The Get Down is the dramatic retelling of hip hop as told by our beloved crew, it’s gritty at times showcasing the gang violence and corrupt politics of that time. There are even hip-hop icons who appear Dj Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash adding to the authenticity., including the elements of hip hop: breaking, MCing, tagging, and DJing; we see the crew learn the basis of the four elements. The show stylistically is fast, colorful, and bombastic; very reminiscent of the aesthetics and pacing show in the comic books of that era. In terms of the sound, there’s so much music from funk rock, breakbeat, and disco; the soundscapes are eclectic from the party scenes to the disco.

The Get Down is set in the catalyst of one summer, with bankruptcy, gang violence, and poverty. A bunch of young nobodies finds love and joy with each other. It’s a coming of age not seen before, Black and Brown kids blending together on screen. You will notice the lack of white people on this show reminiscent of New York’s cultural pots full of Black Americans, Afro-Caribbean migrants, and Latinx Americans. The crew are seen doing ordinary things like attending school, hanging out at the park, and even talking about their fandoms. It’s a rare glimpse in the media to see Black and Brown joy unapologetically. Even with some of the kids who have faced more hardships than others, there’s a sense of prevailing innocence. One of the dynamics I applaud in the series is the recognition of talent and differences among our ragtag crew. The actors portraying the scenes convey a sense of familiarity as well as a normalcy. You see the teens do teen things: work their family business, apply for internships, and fret for their future.

While their stories are interlaced, there are moments while the group cultivates their individual talents and relationships. It should be noted that the ethos is between Shao and Zeke, who definitely have the two most opposing personalities on the show. Shao a character reminiscent of a kung fu film star than blaxploitation character. Zeke our lovelorn poet who doesn’t see the merit in his art, counter balances Shao’s perceived fierceness. There’s Mylene, Yolanda, and Regina who bond over singing as a unit known as Mylene and the Soul Madonnas. There’s the Kipling brothers: Boo, Rara, and Dizzee, who compromise the Fantastic Four Plus One. A staple of any media that focuses on coming of age, our protagonists are given the chances to shape moral choices as well personal development. We see them tackle with ideas of sexuality, independence, and learning about their heritage.

While I do enjoy the series I have a few criticisms, hopefully, that doesn’t deter people However sometimes the plot lines become too convoluted, and the montages of archival footages border on poverty porn. Sometimes the spoken word performances and musical numbers are vital to the story’s progression it seems to be overwhelming. Also, the Get down is not a children’s show, there’s a lot of gratuitous violence (sexual, domestic, and physical) that I would advise viewers to be aware of beforehand. The martial arts scenes can also feel out of place, however, the light-hearted nerd references supplement that. There’s a lot of sexually charged energy directed toward the minors that may make folks uncomfortable. One of the characters engages in transactional sex as a means of survival.It should be noted that misogynistic homophobic and racist slurs are tossed around by several characters. There are also scenes where drug use/addiction/overdose is seen casual. Another grievance I have is that sometimes all of the aforementioned things feel romanticized, I am aware that several of the writers on the shows are white. Despite my few hesitations, the show is a winner for me, I am invested in the storylines of these characters, it’s a rarity we have media that center on the youth of color. Where it lacks in structure it compensates in the vibrancy of the cinematography.I enjoy the immense power the emanates from these young stars, I am excited about the second season and I hope you are too.

Author: Brittney Maddox

Editor: Han Angus

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