I’m part of the problem here, of course. Or, I guess if you want to get really real about it, Netflix and the Golden Age of television and life are the problems. But you know that feeling where you’re super late for work, and breaking your neck to get there while racing through plausible excuses in your head, and then when you get there, you’re the first one to arrive? (What do you mean, no?)
That’s how I feel about The Get Down. Sarah asked on August 30 where everyone was, and I was part of the everyone. I was moving, I had stuff to watch for work, whatever. But in the intervening days since we once again got right with Netflix, I’ve watched all of Stranger Things and much of The Get Down, and now I’m confused. Because everywhere I go, there are articles like “We showed the ‘Stranger Things’ kids some toys from the 80s Lol” or “10 nostalgic Eggos you want to eat again”, but there are no corresponding listicles for “10 samples you already love from the pilot of The Get Down" or “All the ways to wear ShaoLin Fantastic’s shoes this fall.” Obviously they’re different shows and aren’t in competition, but there’s an awful lot they have in common,= too, especially if Stranger Things owes some of its success to nostalgia, groups of kids/teens, or The Things We Wore Back Then.
So what gives?
I have three theories:
Rumor-busting: When people asked me if I’d seen it yet and I said it was next on the list, four different people said, “The pilot’s not great, but the rest is.” Knowing that and facing down a 93-minute pilot to get through, I was gobsmacked at how great it was. Like, seriously delightfully excellent. The people who said it wasn’t are people I respect, and maybe it was just the excellent Hakka food we had while we watched it, but I thought it was spectacular, so. If you’ve heard this rumor too, it’s not totally true.
The too-cool factor: In Toronto, there are graffiti murals advertising for the show that require a little bit of googling if you didn’t already know what they were. Descriptions of the show have ranged from “A musical about New York in decline” to “A fantasy about the beginnings of Grandmaster Flash” and that doesn’t even begin to get into the tagging or the Jaden Smith or the politics of the Bronx and an influential uncle and a quasi-kid-militia and…
Listen. Don’t worry about any of that. It’s about a bunch of kids you’ll like and an adventure they start to go on. Just like Stranger Things. I promise.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was some other reason for the disconnect, and though of course I considered the fact that it stars a bunch of mostly-unknown-and-newcomer actors of colour, that’s actually not what I think it’s about. I think a lot of people don’t know what the show is or are afraid to talk about it in case they’re interpreting it wrong. Yes, really.
But my big theory for the reason people aren’t talking about The Get Down?
It’s about wanting to work.
Before we’re a half-hour in, we’ve seen the characters on this show do crazy things in the face of work. Threatened their own lives for the chance to learn from the best. Walked away from love affairs because the music is more important. Admitted they were bad at something they wanted to be good at – and then came back from being bad to learn to get better.
This is not what we usually see. Yeah, the rookie needs training—but in Creed or Center Stage or Sister Act 2 or whatever, they already have the talent and the training montage is all you need. This show, though, shows the mechanics of how it works. The purple crayon piece of genius is something I’m going to reference until I start to annoy people. Plus the love story? It’s kind of annoying and we’re not necessarily pulling for it! That’s great!
But it’s about the guts of music and working, and about the honesty of what the day-to-day looks like after you’ve decided you have a dream. Except somehow it’s still a Baz Luhrmann fantasy?
Do we not want to watch people work? Is there some sort of obstacle that prevents viewers from putting themselves in the place of the characters? Is it the love story thing? Is it Empire & Nashville fatigue?
Or is everyone watching, and just not talking about it?
Attached: Justice Smith at an event in New York on September 6, 2016.