Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Disco gets its moment on The Get Down, even as several characters still get short-changed

Illustration for article titled Disco gets its moment on The Get Down, even as several characters still get short-changed

Ever since the series was announced, The Get Down has described itself as tracing the birth of hip-hop, punk, and disco. So far, the show has leaned heavily on the first third of that equation, mostly because, in the summer of 1977, disco and punk were considerably further along in their respective origin stories. As such, punk hasn’t even been mentioned on the series yet, and disco has enjoyed a superficial depiction of its popularity (then at its peak) at settings like Les Inferno and the after-school hangout of the beauty shop. We don’t (and won’t) see its genesis because it already happened.

Thankfully though, it looks like the series is now getting into the finer talking points of disco music—of what makes it good, what it means to its audience, and which pitfalls should be avoided. Most of this arrives via the storyline between Mylene and washed-up record producer Jackie Moreno (Kevin Corrigan), who wants her to record a lame novelty song Cadillac wrote called “Oogie Boogie Disco Biscuit.” As she astutely points out, just because it has a certain kind of beat and follows a certain set of rules doesn’t make it a great disco song. Like any other genres, there are nuances and flourishes needed to elevate it above its decidedly goofy trappings.

In a move that shows he’s not just a sleazy exec, Jackie actually listens to what she has to say and, in the middle of the New York City blackout of 1977, the two move through a lullabied cover of The Supremes’ “Up The Ladder To The Roof,” with Jackie on piano and Mylene on vocals. In one of the show’s best montages, it ends up scoring the climax of each of the episode’s storylines—Mylene and Jackie clicking together creatively, the Fantastic Four Plus One ransacking Les Inferno after dumping Malibu’s car, Lydia Cruz (Zabryna Guevara) and Papa Fuerte slow-dancing, and the rest of NYC working their way through the dark in archival footage that’s still jolting today.

It’s a sequence that easily rivals the turntable lessons from last week, and it proves that The Get Down is committed to treating all of its music with the artfulness it deserves. We’ve seen several disco scenes in the past two episodes, but they’ve mostly been in real-time dance settings, used as background music rather than insider lessons in craft. Here though, we get distinct details including Mylene aptly comparing Jackie’s song to Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” (except the humor is unintentional), and even Cadillac analyzing what makes the genre so important to him. He’s still a coked-out cartoon, but like everyone else on The Get Down, the music humanizes him just a little bit more.

Speaking of humanization, some of the central characters on the show are still lacking in development, and unfortunately, “Darkness Is Your Candle” devotes a huge portion of its runtime to them without ever fleshing them out as people. The biggest sore spot is the stalled romance between Papa Fuerte and Lydia. We know virtually nothing about the latter other than that she’s Mylene’s mother and that she’s both dependent on and terrified of her husband’s increasingly fanatic religious views. But who is she as a person?


More importantly, what exactly defines her relationship with Fuerte? All of the dialogue between them consists of backstory, but we never see why they’re drawn to each other. We never see what their dynamic is like outside of explaining their history together to the audience. When they embrace each other in the blackout, we know their dance is important simply because we’re told it’s important. Sure, it’s visually breathtaking to see Fuerte dip Lydia in silhouette as Mylene’s voice underscores their attraction, but when it ends, when the lights come back on, what are we left with?

I hate to use the English-class cliche, but it’s a whole lot of telling and not a lot of showing. Just imagine how much more powerful the scene could have been if we knew even the slightest bit about Lydia’s personality that didn’t involve her feelings towards her husband and brother-in-law. It’s clear that Stephen Adley Guirgis and co. are more than capable of crafting complex characters with minimal screen time (just look at the Kipling brothers), so it’s even more frustrating that Papa Fuerte and Lydia spend their generous amount of story in synopsis mode. If The Get Down can start treating its entire cast—not just its younger characters—with the same detail and reverence it has for its music (disco or otherwise), then it could truly be something special.


Stray observations

  • This episode did a fantastic job of illustrating the difference between Grandmaster Flash’s get down and the boys’ get down. While the latter certainly looks fun, it does start to seem a little sloppy and amateurish once Mylene criticizes it.
  • Does anyone else think The Caesars come off as legitimately more threatening than any of the other villains on the show?
  • At this point, I just can’t watch Eric Bogosian swear so much and take it seriously. He’s great at the whole profanity-as-poetry thing—I’ve just seen him do it a lot.
  • AVC commenter Stephanie made this observation last week: “I love when Jimmy Smits says something emphatically in Spanish, and then translates it for the rest of us — one you notice how often he does it, you can’t unnotice it…” You’re absolutely right, Stephanie. The most notable one in episode 3 is somewhat of a reversal, since he does English, then Spanish: “If this all pans out, well then of course, you get a taste. Claro que si.” I’m not sure yet if this is another byproduct of over-expositional storytelling or an endearing character trait for Papa Fuerte. What say the rest of you?
  • So how long until we get another reference to David Berkowitz? I’m pretty sure I saw him pop up in the first episode’s opening montage.
  • “Someone taught you how to do that kind of championship fucking.” Stop, Fat Annie. Just stop.
  • “Is it me or is the Bronx getting closer to the sun?”
  • “Boo Nasty!”
  • “Mylene, do you know what a disco biscuit is?”

“Keys To The Quick-Mix Theory”

  • Shortly after the opening, there’s the ubiquitous “That’s The Way (I Like It)” by KC And The Sunshine Band.
  • And shortly after that, The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.”
  • In the post-coital scene between Shao and Fat Annie that nobody asked for, they talk dirty to Hot Chocolate’s “Heaven Is In The Back Seat Of My Cadillac.”
  • Once considered a dud, The Rolling Stones album Black And Blue continues to age well, as proven by its opening track, “Hot Stuff,” repeatedly playing during the heatwave montages.
  • I think Boo-Boo (sorry, Boo Nasty) finds the get down—or at least pretends to—in Touchdown’s “Ease Your Mind” during the party scene. But I could be wrong.
  • Cadillac tweaks and plays an exceptionally archaic video game to the tune of CHIC’s “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).
  • Kool & The Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging” starts around the time the Fantastic Four Plus One are dumping Malibu’s car.
  • As stated above, Mylene and Jackie cover The Supremes’ “Up The Ladder To The Roof” at the end.
  • In my research, I just stumbled upon a great article in TIME that includes an episode-by-episode breakdown of all the music not featured on the soundtrack, as well as a Spotify link to the ones that are featured. They even caught a bunch of stuff that I haven’t. So it looks like this section is a bit moot from here on out. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted!