Review: Netflix show “compels” viewers to watch more

When I first saw “The Get Down” on Netflix, I decided to give it a try due to its descriptor as a musical drama. I thought it would be similar to a popular one I watch, “Empire,” but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The show, which debuted six episodes in its part one in August, has a one-and-a-half-hour pilot that feels more like a feature film.

The episode begins in the middle of action with an on-stage rap performance in the 90’s from the protagonist, Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero. His foreshadowing lyrics tell a tale of a hurting part of New York City, The Bronx, suffering from dishonest politicians, poverty and gangs. But he also mentions the love of his life and another person who transformed his art.

The story then backtracks to the 60s to follow a teenaged Zeke as he gets ready for school. He lives with a financially struggling aunt and uncle who seem strict, but with good intentions. He heads to meet with Mylene Cruz, a talented inspiring disco singer, and the girl of Zeke’s dreams.

For a while, it seems the story will follow this romance, with Mylene rejecting Zeke and him trying to figure out how to win her over.

But “The Get Down” is much more than a love story, if it is even that. Teenage characters deal with common scenarios, like sneaking out and defying their parents. But they also experience more adult situations, like drug use, regular sexualization and exploitation of women, and gang violence.

In the most emotional scene of the first episode, Zeke reads a poem to his teacher, which reveals the fate of his parents. In that moment, he reveals his talents to the audience — although he might not understand them himself.

Then, there are the lighter elements of the show. Jaden Smith’s appearance as Marcus “Dizzee” Kipling is almost a cameo. His character speaks poetically and sees art in everything, especially graffiti. When we first meet him, he decides to check out new street art he and friends are discussing. After he leaves, a character says, “I like him. He’s weird, though.”

Another character who will prove integral is Shaolin Fantastic, a graffiti artist with dreams of being a disc jockey. His character brings mystery with an overload of 60s coolness.

The show can give people whiplash with its moments of martial arts music and karate chops followed by images of abandoned streets and demolished buildings. Scenes which showcase vibrant red Pumas and colorful jackets can come right before the colors dim and a child holds a gun to another’s head.

A brighter part of the show’s first episode, and hopefully the rest of the season, is Francisco Craig. His character holds political influence and seems to care about his city. Many times he talks about wanting improvements like art classes in the classrooms and jobs for the people. In one scene, Craig tells another character he wants “homes for my rainbow people,” a homage to the show’s amazing diversity.

Unlike Empire, the first episode of this show focuses more on plot lines (and there are many) than the playlist. Although I’m not sure the balance is just right, I appreciate the world it has thrown me into.

Another difference is the protagonist in “The Get Down” is clear. With “Empire,” the roles of antagonist and protagonist hopscotch through the characters with seemingly no consideration for consistency.

Overall, the first episode contains so much characterization and too many story lines to count. Usually, when a show does this I’m off the bandwagon, but the desire I felt to know these characters more, along with wanting to see how the teen Zeke becomes the man performing in the show’s intro, compels me to hit “next episode.” Luckily, all six of part one are available for streaming now.