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Arts & Life

New TV Series Rely On Nostalgia To Hook Viewers


Today, Netflix drops a dozen episodes of an ambitious new series on the birth of hip-hop. It's called "The Get Down." Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.


UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Rapping) Home boys, home boys, home boys, let me hear you shout make money, make money, money, money, make money, make money, money, money. Take money, take money, money, money. Take money, take money, money, money...

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: For those of us who lived through the death of disco and the rise of hip-hop, watching Netflix's "The Get Down" often feels like paging through a prized scrapbook. Mostly set in 1977, the fictionalized series focuses on a young romantic from the South Bronx, Ezekiel, who has a talent for bending words into poignant rhymes, especially when talking about the pastor's daughter he wants to date named Mylene.


JUSTICE SMITH: (As Ezekiel Figuero) Mylene, Mylene, a butterscotch queen - this summer, could you be my girl and I could be your king?

DEGGANS: But Zeke doesn't have a clue about what to do with this rhyming skill until an aspiring DJ takes him to the hottest underground party in the neighborhood and explains the get down.

SHAMEIK MOORE: (As Shaolin Fantastic) Grandmaster pinpoints the get down part. Sometimes the drums only play for, like, 10 seconds. So he plays the same record on two decks. While the get down plays on one, he queues the same part on two. Now, I don't know how he knows exactly when to do it, but in the moment one finishes - bang - he flips the mixer - beat goes on and on.

DEGGANS: "The Get Down" is epic storytelling set to a driving house party beat. Baz Luhrmann, director of lush period films like "Moulin Rouge!" and "The Great Gatsby," teamed up with hip-hop notables like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and Nas. Grandmaster Flash appears as a character in the story, played by a younger actor. The pioneering DJ said in a press conference that this story shows how rap grew out of '70s-era house parties thanks to the ambitions and talent of neighborhood kids.


JOSEPH SADDLER: This is the missing years of what has now become a billion-dollar business. When we did this in the '70s, we didn't record this. So now, this particular era can now become a talk of discussion because I've been trying to tell people this for ever and ever and ever - '70s is where this thing really comes from.

DEGGANS: The show portrays the full diversity of the South Bronx in the '70s - burning buildings, glitzy disco parties, and a local graffiti artist whose legend looms like a martial arts master. It's all tied together with a healthy dose of nostalgia for the time when members only jackets and Puma sneakers were a sign of serious cool.

"The Get Down" isn't the only Netflix series steeped in nostalgia. Netflix also has remakes of "Full House," "Arrested Development" and "Gilmore Girls." And they found surprise success with a new show, "Stranger Things." It pays tribute to everything from John Hughes movies to the Steven Spielberg classics, "E.T." and "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." "Stranger Things" is a science fiction horror mash up featuring '90s movie star Winona Ryder as a mom whose son has gone missing near a mysterious medical facility. She insists her son is alive and somehow communicating with her through Christmas lights in her home.


WINONA RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) He was here. He was - he was talking with these.

DAVID HARBOUR: (As Chief Jim Hopper) Talking?

RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Uh huh, one blink for yes, two for no. He was hiding from that - that thing.

HARBOUR: (As Chief Jim Hopper) The thing that came out of the wall...

RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Yeah.

HARBOUR: (As Chief Jim Hopper) ...The thing that chased you.

RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Yeah.

DEGGANS: To understand this wave of nostalgia a little further, I turned to legendary TV producer Norman Lear. He created classic shows like "All In The Family" and "Good Times."


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Good times.

JIM GILSTRAP: (Singer) Any time you meet a payment...

NORMAN LEAR: I'm constantly running into people who are, you know, 50 or 40 or 60 who were kids when those shows were in their prime.

DEGGANS: Lear himself is tapping into the nostalgia trend. He's remaking his own show, "One Day At A Time," for Netflix. This time, it features a Latina family led by a military veteran. He says new shows that reference these old shows can remind viewers of happier times.

LEAR: Their memory of laughing with their parents when people - when families used to watch television together is very alive and well in them.

DEGGANS: Lear also says fans like Jerrod Carmichael of NBC's "The Carmichael Show" and Kenya Barris, creator of ABC's "Black-ish," have grown up to become TV producers themselves, making series which pay homage to the shows and eras that inspired them.

LEAR: When I hear from them, that they teethed on stuff that I did, as I teethed on stuff that others did before me, it's, you know, nothing could be more nurturing.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing, unintelligible).

DEGGANS: "The Get Down" also walks on similar ground. It's the best kind of nostalgia, using fondness for a past era to guide viewers to some new historical knowledge and draw them into an engaging new world. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.