Narcos: Season 1 Review

creators: Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro

starring: Wagner Moura, Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook 

genre: Drama | Crime | Biopic

premiered on Netflix: August 28, 2015

Netflix has transformed from the one stop shop of easily accessible media content into the provider of original programming that is varied, fun and captivating. It's online model continues to show promise, evolve and with time show its capabilities of challenging the big boys of television. Yet, it isn't without its faults and future pitfalls to face. Creating great shows such as "Narcos" here, but trying to please two different kinds of audiences at the same time. Which doesn't always work.

story:

Colombia was a vulnerable Narco state even before Pablo Escobar arrived on the scene. With many small drug cartels smuggling drugs in and out of the country and guerilla groups fighting for spheres of influence with the government and the cartels themselves. What Escobar did to change it all, was that he made the balance of power truly fall into the hands of the drug cartels by the late 1970's and 1980's.

Billions of dollars started to be made by exporting tons of drugs and primarily cocaine into the United States. The scale of it was so great that few attempted to go against him and the new status quo he had created. Only a handful of honest and dignified Colombian politicians and service men were able to hear the call of duty and rise to the occasion. Even American agents of the DEA and CIA were among those willing to participate for one reason or another against the undeniable force of the cartels.

However, they're arrival was fairly too late to stop the crime wave and corruption that was going to commence in Colombia for the very next decade.

thoughts:

Their had been for a while a void when it came to making making a property centered around the cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. The closest one to have the right tone, production value and execution for that kind of story to be told, was the 2001 film "Blow". A production also about the drug world of that time but not of Escobar himself.

Naturally, there were a couple of other properties that dangled with the character of Escobar in the background or in a supporting role such as the latest Del Toro film "Escobar: Paradise Lost" and the decent as far as I've heard Colombian TV mini series about him called "Escobar, el Patrón del Mal".

Though, for such a feverishly interesting and dangerous character that the whole world is still fascinated by. Their wasn't one great auteur or cast to go with it. Al Capone, John Dillinger and even Frank Lucas have had their big dramatic moments unfold on the big or small screen, but Pablo Escobar was the exception.

Which brings us to the bright idea of finally getting this type of project off the ground. With a cast destined for greatness and writers and directors that treat all sides quite fairly in my opinion. Showing moments of humanity that did encompass characters such as Pablo and his associates with their families and friends, while also showing the venomous hatred and will of the authorities of the United States and Colombia to take them down.

Once series "Narcos" begins it will become evident how Netflix is trying to branch out to a wider and more casual audience. Especially with the helpful narration by the main DEA agent character. This partial assistance towards the less patient and hardcore viewers of shows such as "NCIS" and "Burn Notice". Will be easily swooped by the shows magic charisma in telling the story with impeccable detail and a lot of the history connected to it.

Moreover, the depth of information given to the viewer is at times outstanding. From how meticulously Escobar ran the show, to how much power was actually in their hands and what were their true motives. Also the show doesn't shy away from the gritty little details of the drug war. From families being gunned down, babies being executed, bystanders being canon fodder and the good guys also getting their hands dirty and changing dramatically with the show's progression.

And if a minor complaint had to be made concerning this approach, it would be about the one sided nature of politics shown in Colombia. Where one political side in Colombia is presented significantly in a positive light as being anti-Narco and pro-American. Which then makes us immediately presume that the other side of the political arena is either crazy or evil. In this statement I am exaggerating slightly, but this doesn't excuse the show from not presenting a little bit more about its locale in certain places. While also neglecting to give us more detail about the build up of drugs in Colombia. Some of which could have been circumvented by a mere two minute exposition scene through their own main character. Which wouldn't have cost them a significant price, as it could have been easily done through stock footage film.

In regards to the actors chosen for the show, it has to be said that a perfect mix of local actors and foreign were chosen. Additionally, I need to clarify that I am not of the school of thought, that hiring only the best or only locals in order to fit the bill should be the plan of course. For example Escobar is played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura who not for a second will leave you dissatisfied with his intense and convincing performance. Same can also be said for secondary characters of the series such as Luis Guzman and Pedro Pascal. As this show's production went for talent first in many cases and it was the right call to make. Furthermore maybe 80% of the rest of the cast is played by local Colombian actors such as Escobar's family and the political establishment of Colombia. Lastly there is Boyd Holbrook who I didn't know before the show and honestly didn't look like much. Nor will his sudden narration impress in the beginning. However, give the man time and you will see for yourselves he deserves his place amongst the rest and really is one of the focal points of the show. Portraying the patriotic American that does cross the line along with everyone else involved in the narco war.

Concerning the progression of the shows story. It could be called tricky at times , especially once you've seen the shows cliffhanger. Reason being some of the events seem to go by very fast such as Escobar early moments of being a drug kingpin, to his political ambitions and then to the long time we spend with him in the prison during the finale. For that alone it makes me wonder how long have they envisioned this show to go on for. Because I cant see it go past its second season. As the way the first season was handled with immaculate detail, convincing visuals and great realism. It doesn't seem just for it to go even for a third run. By then it will have felt as if Escobar escaped death and capture too long.

Because of this and also the shows format of having a great serialized story with informative narration. Makes it feel as if the show was meant to be on the History Channel and not Netflix. This is why it would be wise to just pick other Narco hoodlums and gangster types of history and make every season or two about one of them. This would make it a great endeavor that wouldn't tire audiences and actually be very informative in so many ways. Moreover, the fact that Escobar and his associates speak Spanish in the show and we see how much of their daily life really is. Speaks miles of how far American show-runners have come, in not attempting to Americanize everything for the sake of ratings. Many will understand what I exactly mean by this.

verdict:

There is more to come of this show, but it can only remain as intense and interesting for its core audience for no more than one season more. As Escobar's demise should not be delayed too long and the show should deal with other famous drug lords of history and take a page out of "True Detective" and "AHS" playbook. Then and only then will show have a great future ahead of it, otherwise we should say prematurely goodbye while it's still good.

Personal Rating:

review by Paul Katsaros

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