I don't think there's another filmmaker alive today who so gets the full-on rush of adolescence AND the act of creation on the same level as Luhrmann, and I have been dying to see what he would do in a more grounded, less fantastical setting. So I was very eager to watch The Get Down. Even after the very mixed reviews - Luhrmann tends to inspire love-or-hate reactions. But then I actually watched it.
There's no two ways around it: The Get Down is an unholy mess of a thing. BUT - and this is a VERY BIG but - somehow the mess feels right. It's been reported that production on The Get Down started before the creative team really knew exactly what it was, and the first episode especially reflects that. But on the other hand, you can see exactly WHY it was so difficult for them to get a handle on just what it was they were creating. Music - and hip-hop in particular - is so tied to the culture of its creation that you can't just make it about the music. You have to also explore the community in which it was created. And hip hop - as far as I understand it - was basically birthed in 1970s New York, one of the wildest, most sprawling, multi-faceted communities ever. So by necessity, you have to have all these additional elements - cultural, political, economic, religious - because they are embedded in the very fabric of the story you're trying to tell. And given the amount of time you have to tell a story in a TV show, you can actually delve into all those elements.
So The Get Down may be a mess, but it's a necessary mess, and it is BEAUTIFUL within that mess.
But I had the exact problem I had predicted with attempting to choose a Best Shot from the 90-minute pilot episode: Which of the show's myriad elements is going to really take off after this first episode? Is it going to be the young love story between young poet/nascent rapper Ezekiel and daughter of a preacher man/wannabe disco diva Mylene? The political corruption subplot with Jimmy Smitts? The criminal underbelly of the world headed by Lilias White's Fat Annie? The coming-of-age story that connects all the teenagers? Or the magical realism that spreads throughout the pilot but is most apparent during the scenes with hustler/sometime graffiti artist/aspiring DJ Shaolin Fantastic?
I've now watched three episodes of The Get Down, and it's still a bit of a mess, but I think I know where the heart of the series lies, and what makes it special. The Get Down is completely unlike anything else on TV, and what contributes most to that is the show's elements of magical realism. They're spread out throughout each episode, but they're important. Music is what connects most of the main characters (if not all of them), and it mainly serves as an escape from the oppressive nature of their world. Their community is basically a ghetto, with buildings burning down and funding for firefighters disappearing, plus it's summer, when the city gets hot, sweaty, sticky, and cramped - when nature itself is at its most oppressive. Music provides an oasis of cool and calm, and when it appears, the series becomes something new, something different. The feeling of those sequences is unlike anything else I've ever seen, but I couldn't find one shot in the pilot that sums them up. But there is this shot: