Netflix's new series The Get Down will do what Mad Men didn't
Have you had a sad, gaping, Mad Men-sized hole in your heart since last May? It's OK, I understand — I have one, too. But among Netflix's 2016 slate of television premieres is one new drama that might hit the spot for those of us who wish we knew what happened to Sally and Bobby Draper as the 1970s progressed.
Admittedly, no one in the just-released sizzle for The Get Down looks anything like Sally or Bobby — but that's just the point. Baz Luhrmann's upcoming foray into television isn't exactly a continuation of Mad Men; it's a look at New York from a similar period in time, told from a wildly different point of view.
Netflix describes The Get Down as "a mythic saga of the transformation of 1970s New York City," which is why I think it's going to appeal to fans of Don Draper and Peggy Olson's escapades. Just as Mad Men was a character drama set against the backdrop of the tumultuous and ever-changing New York of the '60s, The Get Down is set to do something similar as a character drama illustrating the story of 1970s New York. But The Get Down isn't the story of white, middle-class ad men of Madison Avenue; it's the story of DJs, musicians and teenagers of color living in the South Bronx. (It also somehow incorporates Giancarlo Esposito as a conservative religious patriarch, a performance I am simultaneously terrified and ecstatic to see.)
Watching the sizzle, one question becomes immediately apparent: Is Luhrmann the right man to tell this story? On one hand, the adventures of young black teens in the Bronx seems like an odd choice for the television debut of a middle-aged white Australian producer. His two feature films set in the United States are Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby, both of which center on the lives of extremely privileged white folks. American social and racial history is not necessarily in his wheelhouse.
But on the other hand, music permeates Luhrmann's work in a very unique way. Music and dance films like Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge are obvious examples of this, but even Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby's use of anachronistic pop music adds an energy to Shakespeare and Fitzgerald's stories that would feel less palpable otherwise. He's even pursued opera, staging a production of Puccini's La Bohème a decade ago. So a story about disco and the breakout musicians of the '70s? Yeah, that sounds more like the Luhrmann we know and love.
So assuming, then, that Luhrmann is definitely the right person for the job, my next reaction to the sizzle is one of complete excitement and enthusiasm. Because I loved Mad Men. I loved the stories of women struggling for recognition at home and in the workplace, of older folks rediscovering their youth through psychedelics, of generational divides in the understanding of race, gender and sexuality. But as wonderful as all of those stories were, I was always finding myself wishing that they wouldn't always be told from a white, straight, middle-class perspective. I loved when characters like Dawn and Shirley were produced, but they never got the screen time or story lines of Peggy, Joan and Megan. There were episodes where we got to see other sides of New York, but they were few and far between. It was enough to make us hungry for more, and the show never fully delivered.
With The Get Down, we will finally get some of those stories. We will see stories about women who have to contend with racism in addition to sexism in their struggles to survive. We will see stories about young artists who fight hard to live authentically. And we will see stories of an energy and an urgency that isn't as often found downtown as it is up north. Diversity in storytelling is critical — it is the only way we will ever understand new perspectives or consider new ways of thinking and remembering parts of history. A show like The Get Down truly has the power to show a side of New York that we never would have seen in a mainstream historical drama like Mad Men. For that reason, among so many others, I cannot wait for this series to premiere.
There's no set release date for The Get Down, but if you want to see a preview, check out the brand-new sizzle reel below!