The Get Down is the latest original series from Netflix and marks the first foray into TV by director Baz Luhrmann, the man that brought the world the likes of The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, and Moulin Rouge - so if you weren't into any of those movies, we can tell you now, this show isn't for you.
Set in 1970s New York, The Get Down tells the story of how the genre of music we know as hip hop came to be, with The Bronx pretty much the ground zero of the entire movement. Grandmaster Flash along with the Furious Five were one of the driving forces in its development, with one of them even coining the term. While The Get Down doesn't get bogged down with telling the exact life stories of these individuals, it does feature a young Grandmaster Flash and a fictional group of protegees led by Justice Smith (Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero) in what stands as a breakout performance for the young actor.
However, if it's a gritty retelling of the underground hip hop scene you want that represents the often violent and uncertain times it came out of, you may need to look elsewhere. This is Baz Luhrmann, and he doesn't hold back from bringing all his Baz Luhrman-esque tricks to the table. From the grandiose style it's shot in, to the cartoon-like characters and distinctive score - nothing about The Get Down is understated.
Visually it's stunning, but it would want to be. At €10 million an episode it's Netflix's most expensive show to date, with a higher budget than even Games of Thrones gets. Baz Luhrmann initially only signed on as a consultant on the series but once things got rolling, he realised he needed to take a much more hands on approach.
"I really believed that I was sort of going to be an uncle to the project,” Luhrmann told Variety. "The mechanism that pre-existed to create TV shows didn’t really work for this show. At every step of the way there was no precedent for what we were doing. The standard process really didn’t work, so progressively, I was drawn more and more into the center of it."
Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos also very much wanted Luhrmann's direct involvement in the series and sources say he wouldn't fully green light the show until the director agreed to as much, although Luhrmann was clearly very much given creative control in the deal.
Herein lies the root problem with The Get Down. Luhrmann is an extremely talented director, of course, but at some point when he was whittling through that insane budget - which led to quite a few production delays that meant the second half won't be ready until 2017 - somebody probably should have tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he maybe wanted to pair things back a step or two.
As is often the case with big-shot movie directors (Judd Apatow being an example that comes to mind) self-editing is sometimes not their strong point, and the more successful they are, the more difficult we're sure it is for anybody to tell them that. However, if Netflix were giving Luhrmann that amount of money, surely it was someone's obligation to ask more questions, like why the opening episode needed to be an hour and a half long, and why it was only half way through that we even started to get any kind of storyline to care about.
Saying all of that though, when The Get Down gets it right, it really gets it right. One of the last scenes in the opening episode - where we finally got some actual hip hop, met the great Grandmaster Flash, and were told just exactly what the 'get down' is - was just spectacular, and had us tapping our feet and itching to find out what episode two might bring us. It just would have been great if we hadn't been dragged through an hour and a half of unfiltered Baz Luhrmann before that.
As the remaining five episodes prove, it is the music that is one of the major saving graces of The Get Down, and with the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Nelson George on board as executive producers, this is an aspect Luhrmann really nails, and went out of his way to get right. Influential rapper Nas also co-produced and wrote many of the show's rhymes. Luhrmann really made sure he dotted the i's and cross his t's when it came to historical references and surrounded himself with a team of expert consultants and spoke with those on the front line of the hip hop revolution.
The musical sequences are phenomenal, and very little of The Get Down passes by without a score underneath. However instead of just exactly replicating songs from the time, original pieces are made by combining classics like a Jackson 5 album cut turned into a new song featuring Janelle Monaé, Donna Summers morphing into German band Can, and the dulcet tones of Michael Kiwanuka melting into Rufus Thomas.
It's incredible. Genuinely. And like nothing you will have ever seen on television before.
The cast as well will win you over. Similar to Netflix's previous original show Stranger Things, its headliners are young and relatively unknown. Other than of course Jaden Smith, but he manages to fit seamlessly into the background and lets the, frankly fantastic, Justice Smith shine (no relation by the way).
It's important to note though that we're still only at the half-way point of The Get Down, and are judging a first series mid-way through, which is often only when it really gets going. The second part already seems too far away however (it's not out until 2017), and although it might make all those endless threads tie together, will anybody really still care by then?
There's no doubt Baz Luhrmann has created something unique, visually stunning, and in so many ways brilliant here, it just could have done with a little less Baz Luhrmann.