But all of that points to the notion that The Get Down, Parts 1 or 2, is best experienced as a series of discrete moments, reordered as a Pinterest board of visuals or a mixtape of song and dance numbers. If there is to be another season, it should come with a major behind-the-scenes overhaul.
The second episode batch picks up after the young rappers of The Get Down Brothers have successfully executed a pivotal performance, just as their soulful poet leader Ezekiel has begun to chart a path out of the Bronx by courting the favor of rich white Manhattanites offering internships, political connections, and a chance for admission at Yale. His girlfriend Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) also has big dreams, balancing a disco-singing career with the demands of her strict preacher father (Giancarlo Esposito). From those jumping-off points, Luhrmann and his team continue weaving stories about the teens’ ambition to conquer the world—or at least to escape the fate that most of their peers are consigned to—existing in tension with home and family. In Ezekiel’s case, that home continually links him to crime; in Mylene’s, a family member wants to exploit her success.
Smith remains an incredible find as a young actor, gravelly voiced and memorably lackadaisical in manner; he’s destined for stardom outside this show. Shameik Moore is another appealing presence, arguably misused here as the DJ and begrudging drug hustler Shaolin Fantastic—a character that Moore makes jarringly sympathetic even as he does some detestable things. And T.J. Brown Jr. as Boo-Boo, the youngest Get Down Brother, breaks through the noise of the series with beyond-his-years surliness. Unfortunately much of the other acting talent on display is obscured by writing that’s either one-note or inconsistent. There are, for example, only so many times you can watch Esposito appear as a near-parody of Christian uncharity—a fact the show eventually realizes and deals with in rote, upsetting fashion.
The stylistic overload continues: The Get Down veers back and forth among upbeat dance extravaganzas, rap-concert flashforwards, earnest love scenes, brief tributes to crime sagas or kung-fu movies, snippets of 1970s documentary footage, and—new for Part 2—animated sequences that no doubt helped Luhrmann address plot holes without needing to reshoot. The results are occasionally very memorable: an impromptu jam session in a bohemian hotel party, a sexually charged disco throwdown at a new competitor to Studio 54, a climactic rap slam where music’s peacebringing possibility is nearly made real. But there’s a lot of plotting to slog through in between such sequences; at times, it feels like the storylines intrude into what could be a run of sterling music videos.
To achieve a truly giddy, transporting, binge-worthy pastiche—clearly what Luhrmann wants—the writing would need to be stronger. The only form of conflict Luhrmann’s team seems to believe exists is the ultimatum: Do this unsavory thing or sacrifice your career, friendship, or life, usually because someone else will accept no compromises. High-stakes decisions are a key element of dramatic storytelling; they were also a daily reality for people surviving the economically ravaged 1970s Bronx. But the same can be said for negotiation, subversion, and just existing. When it feels every scene revolves around a forced existential dilemma, the results aren’t tense—they’re numbing.