Baz Luhrmann’s epic coming of age musical drama comes to an emotionally thrilling and satisfying conclusion in The Get Down Part 2. This stylized account of the rise of rap and hip hop in 1970’s Bronx, New York picks up one year following the events of Part One, which introduced us to an enormous cast of unique characters including young high school lovers Ezekiel ‘Books’ Figuero (Justice Smith) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola).
By the end of that initial six episode arc, Books and his friends had formed the Get Down Brothers and were ready to take over the Bronx with their new style of music. Meanwhile, Mylene Cruz and the Soul Madonnas’ had their first hit single and seemed on their way to conquering the gospel music charts. Ezekiel and Mylene’s love story is a major driving force of the narrative but The Get Down is so much more than their love story and Part 2 proves this by tackling a slew of dark and complex themes.
Jumping forward to 1978, the streets are as hot as ever with angel dust entering the clubs and discos. When Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) isn’t scratching records with Books and crew, he’s slinging dope for Fat Annie (Lillias White). Raised on the streets, Shaolin still struggles with the pull of the street life. His big heart is in constant struggle with the street thug mentality he was forced to adopt. A character very different from the one he played in 2015’s Dope, Shameik Moore proves himself a bonafide young star. His rivalry with Fat Annie’s smooth and menacing disco dancing son Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is one of artistic passion and the resistance to cultural change. Cadillac is devoted to the disco scene and wants to keep the disc jockeying movement far away from his families’ hot spot dance club Les Inferno.
Resistance to change runs rampant through all The Get Down’s storylines. In addition to the rise of the hip hop genre, industry executives were seeing the cash value in making their music sexier. Donna Summer’s 1975 hit “Love to Love You Baby” case in point, Mylene Cruz and the Soul Madonnas’ are pressured to ditch their good girl images. This hits no one harder than Mylene’s father Pastor Ramon Cruz (Giancarlo Esposito), who has begun to enjoy the opportunities from the church that a famous gospel singing daughter affords him. His complete opposition to anything that challenges the strict values of the church creates a damaging rift within his entire family. Esposito crackles with righteous fury and makes Pastor Cruz his juiciest role since his turn as Gustavo Fring on Breaking Bad.
Depicting the seventies as a major transitional period in the music industry, it only makes sense that the show’s music and concert performances are some of the most entertaining and visually eye popping. This is a Baz Luhrmann production, of course. The teen performers are electric on stage, performing highly choreographed shows that might make you question when they had time to rehearse all this while they attended school and were grounded numerous times. The rehearsal schedules aside, each high energy musical interlude is blended cohesively into the narrative through the editing. Highly dramatic points are spliced into the performance scenes that keep the momentum of the story while upping the ante on the emotional strength of the events and the intensity of the music itself. The soundtrack itself is jam packed with the hottest songs of the era and the writers work in fun pop culture references of the time like Star Wars, John Travolta and Michael Jackson.
Music is at its core, but the characters represent the beating heart of this series. With all the flashy visuals and performances, it’s easy to overlook that they’re the strongest part of The Get Down. Wholly engaging and true to life, they share a chemistry together that’s just as strong as the one the Stranger Things kids share. Rocking a story that contains everything from political, religious and corporate corruption, racism, diversity used as a tool for public perception, religion versus art, the birth and evolution of a musical genre and so much more, The Get Down Part 2 brings the show home in truly epic fashion. Although it may seem like sensory overload at times, the show stays fully committed to its style, tone and mission. Fantastic music, fully realized characters and a fascinating chronicle that brings a moment in time back to life in all its glory and shame makes The Get Down a saga worthy of high praise and worth appreciating multiple times over.
The Get Down Part 2 is a grand feast for the eyes and ears and a monumental achievement in episodic storytelling.