by Chancellor Agard | via Entertainment Weekly
Clocking in at an excessive 92 minutes, the series premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down is beautifully messy and requires a lot of patience to get through. But even though the episode has some problems, I found the show’s boldness and the lead actor’s performance very enticing.
The bulk of the story is set in the Bronx, New York, in 1977; however, the premiere opens with a flash-forward to 1996, where we see the main character Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero (played here by Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs) performing a seemingly sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. His rap, which is about growing up in the chaotic 1970s, sets the stage for what’s to come in the pilot.
From there, we flash back to 1977, where we meet young Ezekiel (Justice Smith), a high-school student wasting his potential. He’s in love with Mylene, a talented singer who turns him down multiple times in the premiere — she has big dreams of getting out of the Bronx and doesn’t think he’s going anywhere.
One of the most important scenes in the pilot — and the one that first grabbed my attention — highlights Zeke’s lack of direction. He wins a poetry contest at school, but refuses to accept his prize because it means reading his poem in front of the class. Afterwards, his teacher tells him he’ll never amount to anything if he remains a coward. That finally moves him to recite the poem, and it’s heartbreaking. As his eyes well with tears, he spits about the first time he learned he was a “ni–er” from his now-dead father. He disappears like Batman before his teacher, who was clearly moved by the poem, has a chance to tell him about employment opportunities over the summer.
Zeke finds out Mylene is planning on sneaking into Les Inferno (a club) that night to compete in a dance competition and meet a famous DJ who could help her become famous. Wanting to impress her and win her affections, he decides to buy a copy of her favorite disco record and ask the DJ to play it for her. In his quest for the record, he runs into graffiti legend/drug dealer/nascent DJ Shaolin Fantastic, who also wants the record for his own purposes. Eventually, Zeke wins out and gets the record. (One of the things I didn’t enjoy was how Shaolin spends most of the episode jumping around roofs, with Luhrmann treating him like a character in a martial-arts movie).
Once Zeke makes it inside Les Inferno, he convinces DJ Malibu to play the song for Mylene. The two share a sweet moment on the dance floor, but everything goes to hell when the Savage Warlords start shooting up the place. The handling of this gun violence is far from graceful. The scene cuts between the Savage Warlords opening fire on the drug business upstairs — set to the aria “Una furtiva lagrima” from the opera L’elisir d’amore — and the dancing and disco music downstairs. Eventually, the Warlords open fire on the dance floor. Despite the tonal whiplash, it’s this scene that confirmed I wanted to stick with this show.
Zeke and Mylene manage to escape the club in one piece, but unfortunately, Zeke’s grand gesture wasn’t enough to change Mylene’s mind about starting a relationship. Despondent, Zeke meets up with his friends — the brothers Kipling, Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks), Boo-Boo (T.J. Brown Jr.), and Dizzee (Jaden Smith). Shaolin Fantastic tracks down Zeke because he needs the record for a secret underground party thrown by Grandmaster Flash.
To read more of the recap, “Where There Is Ruin, There Is Hope for a Treasure,” click HERE!!!