One of the beauties of Netflix’s programming model is that in almost all cases, they allow show creators the leeway to at least present a second season.
This often times rewards the streaming juggernaut when shows that are slow burns ultimately take hold with audiences as the plot thickens — resulting in multiple seasons when the early forecast was grim. It also gives productions themselves a way to expedite and ultimately resolve complex narratives if cancellation is imminent — so that a series feels much more conclusive than that of cancelled network shows.
As the company continues pumping more and more money into original programming, the law of averages dictates that Netflix will inevitably pile up more and more misses.
However, the news that Baz Luhrmann’s sprawling musical odyssey chronicling the birth of hip-hop, The Get Down, had been cancelled after only one season still seems jarring.
To date, the only other comparable show to meet a smilier fate was Marco Polo which still garnered a second season despite a hefty production budget and tepid reviews.
While it’s easy to simply chock it up to poor reception from the masses, Netflix has never seemed to cave to the pressures of expectations. Shows like The OA and Sense 8 are both proof that storytelling can expand beyond a freshman run even when critics run amuck against them.
Clearly something went wrong with The Get Down.
Here’s our best guess as to why we won’t continue seeing the exploits of Books, Shaolin Fantastic, Mylene, Dizzee, Ra-Ra, Boo-Boo, Papa Fuerte and Cadillac.
Baz Luhrmann’s Non Commitment
When filmmaker Baz Luhrmann announced he was heading to television, it further validated Netflix’s intentions to remove any lingering stigma associated with the small screen. The auteur had after all been responsible for some of the biggest spectacles in modern film like The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge.
Although precedent had already been set when David Fincher directed the first two episodes of House of Cards, it felt different in this case. However unlikely it was that a middle-aged, Australian man wanted to tell the story of the birth of hip-hop, it was clearly his passion project and not something he was just going to slap his name on.
For those that watched the first season, the musical numbers and grandiose “world building” are all hallmarks of Luhrmann’s directional style; which some critics argued was actually a major fault of the show.
Despite early reviews, an interview with Vulture suggested Luhrmann was excited for season two, saying, “To be honest, we have already developed the opening of the next season,” he said. “Sony and Netflix have been very driven about having a second season. There has been no question about that. They really want it.”
Obviously, something changed. Chiefly, Luhrmann still fancies himself a filmmaker who makes movies.
It seems it was his non commitment to being involved in a second season — other than just in name — which may have been the first and only nail needed to shutter this coffin.
In a Facebook post examining the cancellation, Luhrmann stated, “When I was asked to come to the center of The Get Down to help realize it, I had to defer a film directing commitment for at least two years. This exclusivity has understandably become a sticking point for Netflix and Sony, who have been tremendous partners and supporters of the show. It kills me that I can’t split myself into two and make myself available to both productions… But the simple truth is, I make movies.”
Although the show has some names; namely Shameik Moore’s portrayal of Shaolin Fantastic and Nas’s involvement on the musical side of things, Luhrmann was undoubtedly the draw here in the eyes of executives.
More style than substance
When talking about television shows than initially capture our attention — often times based on teaser trailers that go viral — we’re then left to dissect if the show ultimately delivered on, “the promise of the premise.”
Luhrmann and co. promised a program outlining the birth of hip-hop in the South Bronx. While it certainly was a wise decision to present it through a semi-fictious lens — as opposed to something beholden solely to the actual timeline — the overall thesis was lost.
This happened for two reasons. One, Luhrmann didn’t make this show for hip-hop heads. It was meant to have universal appeal. Much in the same way medical dramas add in sly jargon to seem authoritative in order to then focus on the human element of medicine, The Get Down followed suit. Graffiti, breakdancing, emceeing and DJing phrases like “Wildstyle,” “flare,” “rhymes,” and “break” seemed to only reinforce the world — only to retreat back into melodrama.
Secondly, Luhrmann and his stable of directors seemed to become overly reliant on the usage of montage. While the effect played up the thematic premise of the DJ bouncing back and forth between a record, it began to feel like you were watching a block of music videos that were interrupted by segments of dialogue.
In turn, major storylines seemed to be completely glossed over; none moreso than Jaden Smith’s “Dizzee” who seemed to have a sexual awakening only to literally be reduced to an animated character for several key scenes in the latter half of the first season.
Luhrmann faced a tough decision; how do you make a show about the birth of a musical genre without dedicating huge chunks to the spectacle> Unfortunately, he never found the right balance.
Even though Netflix doesn’t release information regarding its ratings, there’s no denying that they hope additional production budgets lead to increased viewership.
The Get Down’s 12-episode first season reportedly cost $120 USD million to make. Prior to its debut, Marco Polo — which met its demise after Season 2 — was the streaming service’s most expensive show and reportedly cost $90 million USD a season.
On a per-episode budget, Bloodline, cost about $8.5 million USD and will conclude following its third season. Even though all the aforementioned shows were at different points in their process, there’s no denying that Netflix is beginning to weigh cost versus reward.
For reference, HBO’s Game of Thrones — which drew a staggering 25.1 million viewers each episode for season 6 — costs $10 million dollars per episode and carried a $100 million USD production budget.
The “what now?”
One of the main questions regarding a potential second season would have been, “where do we go from here?”
While there were a few cliffhangers — especially regarding what happened to Dizzee in that train tunnel and how Books ultimately became a star — both seem to be questions related to fiction and don’t speak to the core of what audiences wanted from this show; storytelling closer resembling a documentary that takes creative liberties than an episode of Empire.
One could make the argument that the first season of The Get Down was more about the death of disco than the birth of hip-hop. Although one informs the other, it may have been wise to plant more seeds rooted in the latter to potentially mine for story in later seasons.
Netflix original movies
Netflix’s next major coup in the industry is finding legitimacy with their slate of original film content.
While they’ve taken admirable steps forward with the Idris Elba film Beasts of No Nation, they still also carry the pungent stench associated with being the platform for Adam Sandler.
Their upcoming slate of movies suggests that budgets once reserved for episodic television may be actually deferred toward their movie content.
Whether that means chasing an Oscar with the Martin Scorsese gangster flick, The Irishman, or exploring the farce of war in Brad Pitt’s War Machine, each respectively carries a budget of $125 and $60 million USD.
That isn’t to say that Netflix doesn’t have the cash to do big budget TV and film, but it seems like they’re shifting more towards a model where they want to compete with what is in the cinema.
- All Images via: Netflix