Back in February, when TV critics gleefully piled on HBO’s beleaguered Vinyl, the most common complaint concerned the show’s outré perspective on the primacy of rock and roll and the people (mostly white men) who made and profited from it. The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum memorably described the little-loved ’70s drama as “a ballad of rockism cranked to 11.”
The implication was that rock is uniquely susceptible to hectoring hagiography presented in the form of an “edgy” prestige drama. However, Netflix has offered an unwitting counter-argument in The Get Down, a wildly ambitious and woefully misguided drama set against the genesis of hip-hop in the Bronx of 1977. Like Vinyl — which was co-created by Martin Scorsese, who also directed the pilot — The Get Down is spearheaded by an A-list director, Baz Luhrmann, who’s been empowered as the show’s co-creator, executive producer, and reigning auteur to work on a large canvas, no matter the expense. Also like Vinyl, The Get Down is one of the costliest TV shows ever made; at $120 million, it cost even more than Vinyl.
Here’s where the Vinyl comparisons become really unflattering: While The Get Down promises an authentic portrayal of how the defining art form of the late 20th century came to be — among the producers are Grandmaster Flash, Nas, and the brilliant writer and critic Nelson George — the first three episodes actually deliver a silly, self-indulgent debacle. Often incoherent, frequently indecisive in terms of its style and tone, and, worst of all, inexplicably dull, The Get Down feels as connected to hip-hop history as “Disco Duck” was to the roots of New York club culture.