Set in the Wretched Hive of New York City in the blistering hot summer of 1977, The Get Down is a musical opus that follows the lives of an ensemble of young people living in the Bronx, witnessing the death of disco and the birth of Hip-Hop. The story is told in the format of the flashbacks of a mid-90's rapper narrating the story of his youth and the rise of his art.
The Get Down is a Netflix original series created by Stephen Adly Guirgis and Baz Luhrmann that premiered in August of 2016. The series is also executive produced and soundtracked by world-class rap artist Nas, who also provides the voice of the adult Ezekiel "Books" Figuero.
The first six episodes of the first season were released in August 2016, and the remaining five were released on April 7th.
Tropes present in the series:
- Affectionate Nickname: Grandmaster Flash calls Shaolin Fantastic "Grasshopper."
- Ambiguous Ending: Dizzee and Thor's storyline receives this. Their last scene shows them running from the cops, with Thor getting caught on a fence and Dizzee running into a tunnel with a train coming through it. It's unclear if either of them escape the cops, if Dizzee gets hit by the train, or even how much of the scene is really happening—it's presented in a vague, fragmentary way that includes a shot of their first meeting and plays out like a live-action version of Thor's arrest from earlier in the season, suggesting that it might be a flashback or even a dream.
- Ambiguously Gay: The romantic tension between Shaolin and Zeke gets to the point that, in Part II, other characters start to comment on the Ho Yay between the two, albeit in a homophobic and mocking way.
- Arc Words: "Free" shows up quite a lot, most noticeably in Mylene's song ("Set Me Free"), but also in scenes referencing everything from art to socioeconomic mobility to sexual orientation. A recurring theme of the show is the different ways in which people struggle to be free.
- Alien may also be an arc word. Dizzee uses it to foreshadow his sexuality and his artistic limits while being in-house, before he runs away to be with Thor at the pier.
- Artistic License History: The scene in the gay bar. The girl with Thor and Dizzee says the drag queens are voguing, a dance style which evolved out of the Drag Ball scene in the 80's.
- Art Shift: Part 2 introduces animated sequences in the 70's cartoon and comic art style, mostly narrated by Dizzee, as a way to transition between scenes and highlight dramatic events.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: In-Universe example, the nightclub Les Inferno.
- Beta Couple: Ra-Ra and Tanya. Their relationship is nothing but adorable.
- Big Apple Sauce: The series is set in the South Bronx, 1977. In the midst of devastating depression, the city is the Wretched Hive that pretty much all modern representations of that trope are based on, if they're not based on the city's situation a few years later when the crack and AIDS epidemics ruin it further.
- Big Bad: Fat Annie. Cadillac is more of The Dragon by the end of part 2 but he does have some Big Bad characteristics in part 1.
- The Big Rotten Apple: A given since the show takes place in the late 70s.
- Comically Missing the Point: When Zeke is assuring Shao that he and the other guys won't steal his thunder during the DJ battle, this exchange happens:Zeke: You still gonna be the conductor, we're just gonna be your instruments, you know? Like, I'm a tuba, Boo-Boo's a cymbal, Ra-Ra's a violin and Dizzee's a triangle.Dizzee: I'm partial to the piccolo flute.[All stare at Dizzee]
- Curb-Stomp Battle: When one of the white boys at the Ivy Club said the n word when referring to Shaolin's cocaine, he delivers a flying kick to one of the, and Zeke punches another one in the face.
- Cut Short: Although the final episode does a surprisingly good job of serving as a series finale despite not being planned as such, the series' central question of how Zeke became a famous musician rather than a white-collar worker is never resolved.
- Dance of Romance:
- Played straight with Francisco and Lydia. He had just admitted he's been carrying a torch for her for years, but it becomes clear that she has feelings for him as they dance to a song on the radio.
- Averted with Zeke and Mylene. It was clear that they had feelings for each other before they dance at Les Inferno, and Zeke's plan was for Mylene to fall so hard for him when they dance that she agrees to be his girlfriend. But she rejects him at the end of the night.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: It's set in the 70s. Racism, homophobia, sexism, all these things abound.Jackie Moreno: Mr. and Mrs. Cruz, you may want to close your ears for a second, but the top DJs, the real tastemakers are all...by and large...homosexuals.
Mr. & Mrs. Cruz: [looks of horror]
Pastor Cruz: And is he a homosexual, because if so...
- And later in the same conversation:
Moreno: Leslie Lesgold is a nice Jewish girl.
Pastor Cruz: [Solemn nod] I respect the Jewish faith.
- Disco: Disco is far from dead in 1977. It's still alive and well and the Hip-Hop scene is just an underground rebel movement. However, it's on its way out.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted. On two separate occasions, men are coerced into sex by women in more powerful positions, and in both cases the men are shown to feel disturbed and degraded by the circumstances. (Leslie Lesgold rapes Jackie as revenge for raping her when she was his intern. Shaolin Fantastic is coerced into sex by Fat Annie for money, and is implied to have been sexually abused by her for many years. Cadillac is similarly implied to have been raped by her as well, and once he faces the trauma directly decides he doesn't want to see her ever again).
- Downer Ending: While the show was never overly lighthearted, the final episode ends on a pitch-black note for nearly every main character.
- Boo-Boo is arrested for selling PCP, and Zeke and Shao's friendship collapses as a result.
- Shao returns to working for Fat Annie.
- Zeke gets into Yale but clearly misses his music. Moreover, with Shao gone, Mylene moving, Boo-Boo in jail, Dizzee essentially a runaway, and Ra-Ra spending increasing amounts of time with Tanya, Zeke seems completely isolated.
- Mylene's family has fallen apart, with Ramon dead, Francisco arrested and indicted on arson charges, and her moving to California to pursue her career.
- Dizzee and Thor's final scene is ambiguous and may even be a flashback, but it shows them being chased by police and seemingly in serious danger.
- Cadillac decides to leave Annie behind and work on his record label full-time, which is very unlikely to go well for him given how Annie has reacted every other time someone stopped working for her.
- Even the credits manage to twist the knife by reminding the audience that despite the characters' massive effort to preserve DJs' careers and the spirit of the get down, "Rapper's Delight" was released only nine months later and made backing bands, not record-spinning, the standard for hip-hop and rap.
- Driven to Suicide: Ramón kills himself in Part 2 after finding out the truth about his brother and Lydia's affair.
- Enfant Terrible: An entire crew of them (well, working for adults, the Savage Warlords) who terrorize the neighborhood shop-owners for protection money, and shoot up Les Inferno.
- Establishing Character Moment: Oh, several.
- Teen!Zeke is seen writing a rhyme for Mylene, paying no attention to his surroundings which results in him burning Leon's eggs.
- Mylene is singing in a church, while Ezekiel is on piano...with a cassette recorder.
- Dizzee's moment is when he's with other graffiti artists on the train and talks about Shao 007s latest piece.
- Ra-Ra is supporting Zeke's big decision to ask Mylene out, and telling Yolanda about this, who believes Mylene has bigger plans than to entertain herself with a childhood sweetheart.
- Shaolin Fantastic is introduced in a scene with Grandmaster Flash, who congratulates his last piece. He's mostly doing parkour and is detailed as a fearless superhero among many fans, namely Dizzee and Boo Boo.
- Fat Annie's ECM is her trashing the famous drug dealer Nicky Barnes (who has appeared on the front of a magazine in 1977) and boasting about her wealth and accomplishments, thanks to her flourishing drug business.
- A very prominent ECM is Ramón's. His first words demand that the only time Mylene should sing is inside the church, while he argues against disco and even grounds Mylene once she reveals what exactly she's been singing.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Very luckily for him, Jackie has one when Mylene's father and uncle get in a fight over her futurenote . Jackie had been struggling (and failing) to come up with a song, but in their fight found the perfect blend of disco and holy. The street and the church.
- Zeke also has one when he discovers the mystery and power of the crayon.
- Movie producer Roy Stigwood has one when Mylene and Jackie's hotel party causes him to realize that his current film is terrible and he should make something grittier and more down-to-earth.
- Family Relationship Switcheroo: Lydia and Francisco had an affair, resulting in Mylene. But Lydia was married to his brother Ramon, so they raised her while Francisco took on the role of Cool Uncle.
- Five-Man Band: The eponymous Get Down Brothers.
- The Leader: Books.
- In-Universe, the boys perceive Shaolin Fantastic as the leader due to the nature of Old Skool hip hop, but narratively speaking, Zeke is the main protagonist and the one who actually guides the team.
- The Lancer: Shaolin Fantastic.
- The Smart Guy: Ra-Ra, nerdy and intellectual.
- The Big Guy: Boo-Boo, hot-blooded and the most physically aggressive team member.
- The Heart: Dizzee, the calm peacemaker.
- The Leader: Books.
- Foregone Conclusion: Hip-hop will ultimately surpass disco in popularity, and Zeke will become a professional musician rather than a white collar worker.
- The final episode devotes much of the plot to uniting every DJ, MC, and B-boy in opposition to Fat Annie's plan to make a hip-hop record that replaces the DJ with a band. While they manage to get out of that particular contract, the audience knows from Real Life that record-spinning eventually becomes obsolete. The end credits even remind us:Nine months later, "Rapper's Delight", the first global hip-hop record, was released.
It was recorded with a band.
- The final episode devotes much of the plot to uniting every DJ, MC, and B-boy in opposition to Fat Annie's plan to make a hip-hop record that replaces the DJ with a band. While they manage to get out of that particular contract, the audience knows from Real Life that record-spinning eventually becomes obsolete. The end credits even remind us:
- At the end of the first episode, Adult Zeke appears to be crying when his backup singers are singing the song he recorded with Mylene for her demo. And given that it's a Baz Luhrmann production...
- Dizzee's sexuality.
Boo-Boo: [to Dizzee] I thought you was a rebel!Dizzee: I am a rebel.Ra-Ra: But you can't be a rebel if you don't rebel.Dizzee: Fuck. True.
- Episode 4:
Jackie Moreno: [Homosexuals] got the independent spirit, the je ne sais qoui, you know. They're rebels.
- Episode 5:
Girl: [to Dizzee] Go on, kiss him![Dizzee and Thor share a kiss before touching foreheads]
- Episode 6:
- Shaolin's sexuality gets a shout out too.
Cadillac: [to Shao] Shaolin Fan-Faggot!
- Episode 1:
Mylene: [to Shao] The way you be all up in Ezekiel's business all the time, maybe you got the hots for my boyfriend?Shao: [appears shook, stops the record from playing, and glares at Mylene]] I ain't no faggot.Mylene: Get your own man.
- Episode 8:
Shao: You know there's a reason why I go by Shaolin Fantastic.Dizzee: Because you're a superhero?Shao: Because people don't need to know everything about me. Don't worry. I got you, my alien brother.
- Episode 11, with Shao and Dizzee:
Fat Annie: ...Starting with that half black, half rice-and-beans, Ezekiel Figuero boyfriend of yours.Shao: [immediately] He's not my fucking boyfriend.
- After his breakup with Zeke:
- Framing Device: The first episode begins with Adult Zeke headlining a massive concert in NYC. Most of the following episodes feature him rapping about the events of the episode.
- Friend Versus Lover: Mylene and Shao deeply dislike each other for what they both perceive as being a bad influence on Zeke. Mylene sees Shao as a criminal who's encouraging Zeke to squander his potential, while Shao sees Mylene as an uptight hypocrite who wants Zeke to abandon his passions in favor of respectability.
- Gay Bar Reveal: Dizzee realizes that the women on the catwalk might not have been born that way. He's fine with it.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: All over the place. The series went all out to put everyone in clothes appropriate (or inappropriate, Mylene) for the time, place, and situation.
- HeelFace Turn: Though not entirely 180 degrees, at the end of the last episode Cadillac realizes that he and Shao have a lot of pain in common, and while not exactly becoming a good guy, he renounces Fat Annie, his thug lifestyle, and his quest to destroy the Get Down Brothers in order to pursue his own music career
- Heroic BSoD: Jackie has one at the end of the fourth episode as he's forced to confront his failure to write a song for Mylene in front of Francisco.
- Mylene after her father kills himself in part due to her branching out her singing career.
- Hip-Hop: Where Disco is all flashing lights and fancy clothes, Hip Hop is dirty, real, and aggressive. The former is the dream, the latter the nightmare and the fight against it.
- Historical Domain Character: Ed Koch, Mayor of New York from 1978-1990. DJ's Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Caz, and Afrika Bambaata. Mentions of Nicky Barnes, Harlem's biggest drug-dealer. Also the hip hop crews the Notorious Three, the Caesars, and the Zulu Nation.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: When The Get Down Brothers are practicing for the battle, Ra-Ra initially struggles a lot with his verse. Then Dizzee suggests he doubletime it.
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Fat Annie ties Shaolin Fantastic to her organization when she makes him shoot Wolf.
- Informed Attractiveness: Zeke, Jackie, Francisco, and to a lesser (and creepier) extent, Cadillac all talk at length about Mylene's looks. Zeke even points her out as "the beautiful one" to Shao. It's not that she's not beautiful (she is), but that she's not above and beyond her also-gorgeous friends.
- It Will Never Catch On: There's a lot of skepticism about the commercial appeal of hip-hop, even among its fans and artists, who don't see how they'll ever be able to make a record out of other people's records.
- MacGuffin Melee: Episode 1 has Shao vs. Zeke with the Carlos Pakoussa record that goes from the record shop to Zeke's to Les Inferno, stolen back and forth a number of times.
- Meaningful Echo: Played with. In the scene that cuts between Jackie at the record pool with Leslie Lesgold, Shao at Fat Annie's, and Zeke at Herbert Gunn's house, Leslie's, Annie's, and Gunn's lines are echoes of each other, sometimes loosely rhyming with each other.
- The Napoleon: Boo-Boo is the shortest and youngest of the Get Down Brothers, and definitely the most physically aggressive of the group.
- There's also a small, physically aggressive character called Napoleon.
- No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Francisco "Papa Fuerte" Cruz is based on real-life South Bronx "poverty pimp" Ramon "Padrino" Velez, down to his dreams of Hunts Point housing and a partnership with Mayor Ed Koch.
- Dizzee is based on one of the show's consulting producers, Chris "Daze" Ellis.
- The Obi-Wan: Grandmaster Flash to the Get Down Brothers.
- Official Couple: Zeke and Mylene by the end of episode 3.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Ra-Ra, Dizzee, and Boo-Boo are only ever referred to by their nicknames in the show, until Part 2 when Winston reveals their names as Ronald, Marcus, and Miles, respectively.
- Shaolin Fantastic isn't his given name. His name is revealed to be Curtis at the end of part two.
- Thor may also be this, as "Thor" is his graffiti tag and thus likely not his actual name.note
- Reality Ensues: Zeke, after he's tearfully rejected by Mylene, doesn't forgive her immediately. When she comes to the hideout to ask Zeke for a favor, he curses her out and storms off. In Part 2 episode 5, Zeke realizes that it was Shaolin who set up Boo Boo to sell drugs (which caused him to sell tainted angel dust, which almost kills Dizzee) and gives him a heartbreaking The Reason You Suck speech, thus ending their partnership.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Shao (Red Oni) and Zeke (Blue Oni).
- Roofhopping: Sets up the meeting scene between Shao and Zeke.
- Serious Business:
- Do not bootleg a DJ's shows. You do that, you're messing with his income. First offense is serious damage. Second offense is death. You may also be banned from spinning.
- More generally, the series presents a large number of characters treating music this way. Some view it as a path out of poverty, others as a path to enlightenment or fulfillment, others as a path to change and progress.
- Shout-Out: When Shao is talking to Zeke about the internship, he repeatedly calls him Toby while mimicking the (white) people Zeke'll be working for.
- Lest we forget Ra-Ra and his Wars references? He even claims he has watched the movie 57 times in the past year!
- Stern Teacher: Ms. Green really believes in Zeke, and is not afraid to call him out on his apathetic bullshit. She shows up to his apartment during the summer and teams up with his aunt to make sure he applies for an internship that could lead to college."I don't know why it is, Ezekiel, that you seem to want to be nothing, when with just a little courage, you could really be something."
- Stylistic Suck: The scenes set in the past (i.e., the entire show) are shot in a grainy, 16mm film style.
- Take That!: Several characters take shots at "Disco Duck", a popular novelty song from the 70's.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Papa Fuerte delivers a nasty one to his brother Ramón in episode 5.Papa Fuerte: Come preach here all you want, but to me you're still gonna be that little pendejo that got two girls pregnant back in PR.Ramón: Diablo!Papa Fuerte: Diablo? No, that's you. You ever wonder what happened to those kids you abandoned to come here and party in the land of milk and honey and cocaina, then when you get here, you almost kill a man and his little kid with your car. But you forgot that, right? You blacked out!
Zeke: You ain't magic, Shaolin Fantastic. You're broken.
- Earlier in episode 3, Roy Asheton gives it to Jackie Cruz. He receives another one in episode 6 by Leslie Lesgold.
- Zeke to Shao in the last episode:
- True Companions: The Get Down Brothers (Zeke, Shao, Ra-Ra, Dizzee, and Boo-Boo) and the Soul Madonnas (Mylene, Regina, and Yolanda) are both this.Zeke (to the Get Down Brothers): Whatever goes down, we go down together.Mylene (to the Soul Madonnas): You my girls. For life.
- Twofer Token Minority: This is Truth in Fiction for the seething mix of cultures in late-70s New York. Queer people of color, women of color, and mixed race individuals, all over the place. What's different is that the characters are almost all people of color, so what would be twofers on any other show (bi Dizzee, all the women) are instead just characters.
- Invoked by Zeke's aunt and Ms. Green. He's perfect for the internship because he's black and Puerto Rican (and intelligent and talented). They even mention he could only be a better candidate if he were a woman, too.
- Urban Hellscape: Truth in Television for the 1977 Bronx.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Grandmaster Flash is a real person, and he had a crew known as the Furious Five (as opposed to the Fantastic Four Plus One - there was another real crew called the Funky Four Plus One though), but the semi-magical elements of Shaolin's abilities and his relationship with Flash are somewhat fictional.
- The rap/DJ battle at the end of episode 6 seems to be very loosely based on the between The Brothers Disco and Afrika Bambaataa, though with a much different ending than the historical one.
- One episode takes place during the city-wide blackout on July 13-14, 1977. Interestingly, this was a pivotal moment in the burgeoning hip-hop scene, as a lot of aspiring DJ's and MC's did loot their records and equipment that night.
- Much of the first season focuses on the mayoral election campaign of Ed Koch.
- Wicked Cultured: Mr. Gunns tells Zeke the necessity of abandoning his friends and making decisions that ruin people's lives while sitting in his massive, beautiful library after talking about which piano he should buy to add to his collection.
- Word Salad Title: Mostly averted. The episode titles are clearly meant to be meaningful (instead of impossible to parse on first viewing). However, each title looks more like an Ice-Cream Koan and only fully makes sense once you've watched the episode. The episode titles also all show up as graffiti on the sides of subway cars throughout the series.
- Where There Is Ruin, There Is Hope For Treasure: In the burnt-out ruin that is the South Bronx, a new art form is being born.
- Seek Those Who Fan Your Flames: Not only does Shaolin have to forge a real connection with his crew, but Zeke has to find genuine inspiration.
- Darkness Is Your Candle: This episode centers on the 1977 blackout, and the looting and rioting that occurred therein. But in this darkness, people are free to speak the truth. Francisco confesses his ongoing love for Lydia (and we get hints that he's Mylene's father), Jackie confesses he's a Jaded Washout to Mylene and tells her how horrible the music industry is, but so impresses her with his honesty in that moment that she insists he stay on as her agent. After discovering that they've been tricked into dumping a body for Cadillac, Zeke rebrands the Fantastic Four Plus One as the Get-Down Crew and leads them in stealing new equipment from Les Inferno.
- Forget Safety, Be Notorious: In order to make amends with Flash, the crew have to embark on a dangerous mission into hostile territory and in the process begin forging their reputation.
- You Have Wings, Learn to Fly: Flash has repeatedly referred to Shao's crew as his wings, and he has to learn to trust them as his voice.
- Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice: Zeke learns that it's not enough to speak; you have to have something to say.
- Wretched Hive: New York is in the grips of a terrible depression, where landlords find it more convenient to burn down their buildings than to try and collect rent from their tenants. The result is that the Bronx looks more like a war zone than a major city in a first-world nation.