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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE GET DOWN is a Bit of a Letdown, But Jaden Smith is a Highlight

Now before you start throwing rocks at me, you should know that I have always been fascinated by Jaden Smith's career. And I don't mean that in a snarky, sarcastic way; I'm being sincere. He's one of the few Hollywood heirs who didn't grow up to become messy tabloid fodder, which is sadly a huge accomplishment in today's modern era. True, his faux philosophical rhetoric on social media can easily be subjected to ridicule, but he seems genuine in how he presents himself. He's even got a nod from Variety Magazine, listing him among young Hollywood stars to watch. Not to mention, his roles (despite his rather meh acting approach) have always surprised me--in a good way.  

Which brings me to THE GET DOWN, the latest Netflix original series that presumably highlights the birth of hip-hop in the the Bronx, New York. I say "presumably" because in its six-episode run (part 1 of an unknown amount), it could be better described as a drama that happens to take place during that time period--when disco was about to have another comeback and Grandmaster Flash and his crew were mixing hip-hop beats on a shoestring budget. The characters come alive with the help of the amazing costumes and soundtrack, as well as the solid young cast led by Justice Smith and Shameik Moore (who play Ezekiel and Shaolin Fantastic, respectively)--young inner city prodigies trying to rise up from their surroundings using the power of music to bring attention to the issues that matter to them most. 

Like every project from Baz Luhrmann (co-writer/co-director and the person on whom the media seems to be focusing most, though Grandmaster Flash and award-wining filmmaker Nelson George are also behind it), THE GET DOWN is airy, and seems to purposely dodge every opportunity to provide substance to the story. Which is a shame, especially seeming as I'm sure many would see this as a niche (read: black) narrative that has a specific audience. That said, it needs to work twice as hard to grab audiences within these six episodes in order to sustain them. It doesn't. In fact, it takes a long while to actually get to the meat of the plot (hip-hop politics, socio-economic policy in New York City, social justice, etc)--all of which compounds the circumstances that bring these characters together. It just barely scratches this surface as it slowly meanders into young love, marriage infidelity, and dirty politics subplots. 

Then the story breaks off into what could actually be a really interesting storyline for Smith, who plays Marcus "Dizzee" Kipling, the most solitary, soft-spoken member of Ezekiel and Fantastic's crew, when he experiments with pill-popping artists/lovers at a nightclub and gets his cherry popped--both by trying drugs for the first time and getting kissed by another young man among the group. It's a moment that is slowed down intentionally, giving us time to really take in all of what's happening here: a young black man, definitely a blerd, on the verge of artistic superstardom coming into his own. And Smith plays it so effectively--with a hint of fear and naiveté mixed with bravado (because he's a rap dude, you know?). 

But alas, the moment doesn't last. It's actually not even mentioned again. Though, it does come toward the conclusion of this part of the series, so hopefully it won't be the last we'll see of this storyline. For starters, we really need more representation of gender fluidity and LGBT characters of color on the big and small screens. And blerds like Dizzee, who fit outside the mainstream, are also lacking onscreen. 

While the rest of THE GET DOWN struggles to find its footing outside the performances, Dizzee is a refreshing character to see. Let's just hope that Netflix doesn't let us down.


milaxx said...

I agree. I liked this, but I have to admit the series doesn't really start to gel until about ep 3. Jaden however, is quite good. I haven't been this impressed with a role he has played since The Pursuit of Happyness, Now I am eagerly looking forward to the back 6 episodes.

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