The Get Down (Part I) Review — Style, Style, and More Style

No wait, I see something…oh no wait. It’s just another fucking style point.

2016 has been a surprisingly decent year for video game anime, but one of said cartoons that did not seem to get the message was Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive. I intended for it to be this Friday’s review, but that backfired horribly when it ended up being so incomprehensible that I literally forgot things five minutes after they happened, and Wikipedia sure wasn’t helping in that regard. Hell I’d be surprised if people who paid attention to all the pre-release information could make sense of what happened in Kingslaive. Advent Children was easier for me and my friends to digest, and most of us were in middle school when we first saw it and have never played Final Fantasy VII in our lives.

So let’s look at another Netflix show this week, and whilst I’m sure the elitist among you want me to take a look at the latest season of Narcos, I can’t summon up any energy to watch a gritty crime drama centered on Pablo Escobar. Guy has never struck me as all that interesting a gangster, especially not one I’d want to follow for over twenty hours. Sure The Get Down is probably a worse show in comparison, but it’s a lot more fun to talk about, especially in regards to recent anime trends despite not being an anime. With Frog bringing Your Lie in April back into the community’s lives and Kizumonogatari getting people to cum all over their Hanekawa posters, I think it’s worth bringing up that even if I had liked their presentation, that isn’t going to excuse them from being crap, and it definitely does not give The Get Down a free pass for having less substance than a box of Spinach crackers.

Yeah we’re cliche, but we’re in the late 70s, so we can get away with it.

And believe you me, I love The Get Down’s style. I know it’s weird of me to say that about something made by Baz Luhrmann, but I really do. Hip-hop and disco are some of my favorite music genres of all-time, and The Get Down does it’s best to combine dramatic storytelling with music video-style direction to mostly positive results. Unless you’re not a fan of the latter, I can’t think of any major faults in regards to this show’s usage of music to tell a story. The way everything cuts, the choice of background noise, and the large amount of culture that gets introduced makes it clear that the creators of this show love music. I’m guessing that’s the main reason why people love this show. Not on the level of Stranger Things of course, but if you look on your average TV site, you’ll see nothing but high praise for The Get Down’s addictiveness.

Which I can sort of sympathize with, given how quickly I finished watching the first half of this show. Oh yeah, I should mention that only half the show is out at the moment and the other half won’t be airing until next year. Some people say resource management is an issue. Other people say it’s because of the criticisms Netflix has taken for releasing every single episode of their original shows at once. I don’t know and honestly, I don’t need to know. Either way, here’s to hoping that The Get Down fixes itself up come next year. Because as it stands, it’s nothing but every cliched “love story/guy working his way out of the slums tale” trope I’ve ever seen, except set in the era when disco was dying and hip-hop was taking over.

Fuck man, your neighbor across the street has a nice ass.

The story is centered on Ezekiel, a young afro dude living in the South Bronx who’s in love with his childhood friend, Mylene Cruz. However, despite obviously caring for the dude, Mylene doesn’t want to have a future with a black hoodlum who doesn’t know what he wants, preferring to go out there and make a name for herself in the disco scene. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from getting Zeke to help her out, and even sleeping with him on rooftops at night because she actually “does” love him. Yeah, I know women are complicated, but I’m pretty sure that half the time, the writers were just not communcating with each other when it came to deciding how the audience was supposed to feel about the main relationship. And honestly, that’s the least bloated element of this show.

Through a series of ridiculous events that either fit the show’s theatricality or is just plain stupid depending on who you ask, Zeke discovers the hip-hop scene through a guy named Shaolin Fantastic (and no, we’re never told what his real name is) and uses his poet skills to participate in rap battles with the best of them, all whilst dealing with gangsters who have the hots for his “is she or is she not” love interest and crooked politicians who want to see the scum of the streets cleaned. Sometimes, I wish Baz Luhrmann would get it into his heads that having a lot of elements doesn’t automatically add something to your story. Anyways, The Get Down is best summed up as an underdog tale of how Zeke rose from being a nobody hoodlum to a successful hip-hop artist (which is given constant clarification by the frequent flash-forwards to the future where he’s shown to make a living rapping about what happens in the show) whilst dealing with all the troubles that come his way. And it can also be summed up as a love story about two people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and taste in music learning to follow their dreams whilst wondering if there’s a place in the world for them to share each other on the way.

All those who have personality are not welcome in the circle.

The problem though is that I don’t care about Zeke’s underdog tale at all. There’s nothing fun about watching a guy climb his way to the top unless it’s to express a unique point, and the only points that Zeke seems to encounter is that “getting good at hip-hop will solve all his problems, let alone get the girl,  as long as he doesn’t mind the rocky road to get there”. That is a very shitty message, and one that a lot of underdog stories frequently make because they fail to realize that just because you make a character a small fish in a big pond doesn’t mean he’s going to be likable. And Zeke just isn’t very interesting a character, because all we learn about him is that he wants to impress a shallow girl, he’s undecided about his future, and he’s a poet. Not once does the hip-hop ever factor into his characterization other than he’s good at it, and all the poetry seems to do is make him a natural rapper. He’s not using it to make meaningful connections with people (no, black friendship does NOT count) and he’s not using it to better his life unless you count running away from some big problems and actually succeeding at it.

Not helping at all is the fact that a lot of what happens in the show is really circumstantial. Zeke never really suffers any problems brought out by his own personality, and even when he does, said problem is generally solved through a compromise that doesn’t really add to his growth. He just suffers for a bit, and then goes on like nothing has happened except maybe he’s a little more determined, which isn’t substantial character growth. That’s just the very logic that kept people reading Bleach long after it stopped being good. The final episode of this first half really exemplifies this when Zeke is chosen to give a big speech for a crooked governor at the same time Shaolin Fantastic scheduled a big hip-hop battle against some dudes that Zeke’s friends made angry. Normally, this would lead to a harsh choice where Zeke has to choose the safe path or the risky path, and whilst a mediocre tale would make its main character choose the risky path and leave it at that, a good tale would make its main character choose the risky path and deal with the consequences of his actions.

You know what path Zeke chooses? He ends up choosing both and getting away with it. What kind of cheap-ass resolution to a hard conflict is that? That’s like choosing both women at the end of a non-porno, love triangle story and said women being okay with that decision. Can you really see White Album 2 working if it ended like Booby Life? And if you don’t know what Booby Life is…good.

I am the black version of Bugs Bunny.

Really, the only reason you’d want to root for Zeke is because every other character is shallower than he is. Mylene being nothing but a tool for the underage boys to goggle at is one thing, but every other supporting character is just an over-the-top cliche. There’s Mylene’s father, who;s nothing but your stereotypical abusive religious fuck. There’s Zeke’s posse, who are just there to be his posse. Shaolin Fantastic is tolerable, but he’s not exactly a very complex character either given how he just does what he wants whilst constantly wearing the same death flag that Kamina from Gurren Lagann wore during the first part of that show. And then there’s the racist white government official and the stereotypical crazy black gangsters, who’d rather go out of their way to prove they’re cartoons rather than act like they’re in a David Simon work. No, I don’t remember most of their names. Hell, I didn’t even recognize Jaden Smith until I looked up the cast on IMDB and saw his name attached to it.

I mean I guess The Get Down is worth watching if you’re one of those style-as-substance people who think James Cameron’s recent career is the peak of his movie-making skills, but all I see when that sort of thing pops up in my face are tragic examples of wasted potential. There are way too many products out there that successfully marry both an entertaining style and brain-food substance to great effect (even if the actual results are usually never amazing), and it boggles me to see how anyone can settle for less after seeing the boundaries of what these entertainment mediums can actually accomplish. I’ve seen music movies that dealt with some real hard shit and I’ve seen music anime that treated the music, time period, and religious aspects as a vital part of the story rather than just a means to an end. Like I said, there’s still another half to go, so maybe things will get better later on. However, as of right now, The Get Down is nothing but another “are you not entertained” mess that had the potential to be so much more.

Minor Quips

  • Mind you, Advent Children is mostly just an excuse for overblown fight scenes, so all you’d need to know is who the characters are, which is pretty damn easy to look up.
  • Still, I liked that one love triangle story that was resolved by both women killing the dude and choosing each other as a kid.
  • The less said about that female-on-male rape scene, the better.

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