So Netflix dropped the first 6 episode of The Get Down last week, and I’m finally done watching them all. On a whole, I liked it – but there’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m going to do it without offering a whole lot of spoilers.
First, don’t watch this show if you’re looking for a documentary about Hip Hop history. This is a fictional show with roots in many real life events and characters from the 1970s South Bronx. I feel like some of the shade people have thrown at this show is because they were expecting something a bit more true to history, or perhaps The Warriors 2.0. Hip Hop history is pretty well documented, and as much fun as The Warriors was, it too was a fictionalized movie. The late 1970s and 1980s were indeed a dangerous time to be growing up in NYC – but to only focus on that would be to lose sight of everything else going on at the time. Yes, the streets were dangerous – but plenty of kids were still going to school. Plenty were striving for love, education, and something better. The Get Down tells this story. If you accept the show for the fiction it is, it ain’t bad. At the moment, it scores 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The story follows a smart teenage Bronx native named Ezekiel, his gang of friends and his love interest Mylene. There’s a lot of other great colorful characters in the show too – ranging from Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Ed Koch (based off the real people), to the fictional Fat Annie. Gothamist has a short, not very detailed article that goes a bit more into differences between fictional characters and reality. I honestly don’t think this is worth getting hung up on too much. This isn’t meant to be a documentary. There’s a lot of great acting throughout.
Graff for The Get Down put up in East New York freight tunnel
Graffiti & Sexist media coverage
What I did get hung up on were some of the visual details, especially pertaining to graffiti culture. There’s a lot of graffiti in the sets, and the handstyles are really spot on for that era. There’s also the whole graffiti artist fashion style aspect, which is something Vogue picked up on. The character Dizzee sports a custom denim jacket (created by Lady Pink) painted with his graffiti piece on it. This is reality – I myself always went to school with a messenger bag that was painted with a huge “JOE” tag on it. It was the same tag I’d draw all over the front of my high school every week (and somehow never got in trouble for).
Speaking of Lady Pink – can I just take a minute to call out some of the sexism in some of the news coverage of The Get Down? Gothamist and Rolling Stone only mention Daze Ellis & Crash Matos as being graffiti consultants – ignoring Lady Pink completely. What’s up with that? Vogue touches on her role a bit, and it’s mentioned in Variety as well.
On a similar tip, Chris Stain hasn’t gotten nearly enough of a shoutout for painting much of the graffiti in the show. The scene where Dizzee and Thor do a piece (in East New York tunnel) is actually a Chris Stain work based off an outline from SaneSmith.
Yes, I’m nit-picking here – but I’m nit-picking about credits, not the show. So… let’s nit pick the show a little shall we?
Lots of tags by Chris Stain
The only thing I really didn’t like were some overused 1970s NY footage tossed in with more modern footage. There’s a few spots where it gets montage-ish – quickly cutting from 1970s clips to recently shot clip – sometimes where it just didn’t seem necessary.
One example in the first episode is where Shao is being chased from the record shop. They show a fire truck zipping by and then they cut to a 1970s clip of a different fire truck turning a corner. The quick splice wasn’t particularly necessary, and the truck that zipped by wasn’t a vintage 1970s rig (although they did try to make it look more realistic by adding “Ladder 29′ signage – which is an actual FDNY ladder company that still serves the South Bronx today (located on E. 138th street). Still, the signage had the wrong fonts. Why bother making a fake sign if you’re not going to make it look as real as it could have been?
Fake and Real Ladder 29 trucks
It’s a tiny detail that I doubt anyone who didn’t grow up in NYC at the time would notice (i.e – the vast majority of the population), but… if I’m noticing this for something as trivial as a fire truck, I’m assuming there’s plenty of similar just-missed visuals or hip hop facts throughout the show.
The second is another modern day clip showing new subway cars laying up in a subway yard at night – it’s just plain too easy to tell that for a few seconds, you’re looking at modern R160 cars which look nothing like the old R21 and R22s that ran in the 1970s.
Again – I really doubt a lot of people will notice this one, but for those that do… ARRRGH! The frustration here is coming so close and then dropping the ball on easy-to-fix details.
I think these goof-ups are really maddening to us native New Yorkers who grew up here at the time because the show gets so many of the other visuals so completely spot-on. Here’s a whole list of scenes they get right: The Charlotte street lot, the subway car interiors in the later episodes, the trash covered streets, big old automobiles and tags all over the place. The only thing missing from those vintage subway car interiors is how the lights would flicker on and off when going over switches (which would have looked a little weird in a TV show).
Speaking of things that are missing – there’s one big audio detail left out of this show… I didn’t hear one single god damned car alarm blaring in the background. You couldn’t go a day back then without hearing some shitty loud ass car alarm going off. Then again, that might have been more of a 1980s than 1970s thing? My memory is a little fuzzy on that one and I rather not research the history of car alarms right now.
At the end of the day, this is some great creative fiction and story telling, based off of a reality that is incredibly hard to recreate. 95% of the time, The Get Down recreates the 70s South Bronx (and NYC) very well.
Don’t like this review? Well, comment below – no informed, serious comment will be deleted 🙂 Otherwise, opinions are a-holes and…