Netflix’s new series, Narcos, debuted all at once on Friday. So how does the 80s drug tale fare?
Let’s bitch it out…
Narcos is a relatively straightforward tale about the rise of a drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) who stumbled upon a goldmine exporting cocaine from Colombia to Miami. It’s a real life story, evidenced by real photos and video from the 70s and early 80s, but the details are so fantastic that the series creators felt the need to include a caveat about magical realism to confirm that despite the bizarre nature of their story, it is, in fact, real (or mostly real).
In its opening hour, however, ‘Descenso’ doesn’t include anything that merits such an introduction. It’s a fairly basic, exposition-and-voice-over-heavy episode that’s mostly cobbled together from tropes from various mob movies. That’s not to say that it isn’t well-executed and enjoyable, but it’s a stretch to say that the pilot makes for compulsive viewing. If I weren’t interested in the subject matter, I’m uncertain if ‘Descenso’ would inspire me to dive into subsequent episodes.
Part of this likely owing to the fact that the episode attempts to cover so much history in the span of 55 minutes. Over its runtime, ‘Descenso’ jumps back and forth over a ten year period and is filled with roughly twenty characters, each with an important role to play in Escobar’s rise to power and the drug war that claims thousands of lives in the process. The challenges of introducing so many characters and history in so little time is so daunting it requires a near-constant voice-over from its pretty boy protaginist, DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) to keep the wheels greased. Unfortunately to say that Holbrook’s delivery is bland is a gross understatement, so here’s hoping that now that the foundation for the series has been established, we’ll get more show and less of Murphy’s tell.
Thankfully the series looks great (credit feature film director José Padilha for effectively staging not only the scattered action sequences, but also the more talky scenes). The expansive history lesson also includes enough colourful characters to keep us entertained, including memorable stand-outs like charismatic exporter the Lion (Jon Ecker), Carlos (Juan Riedinger), the gay pilot who helps to fly the product into Miami, and Cockroach (Luis Gnecco) the Chilean originator of the cocain paste whose actions eventually escalate the drug war to the point that Murphy moves south to Colombia with his wife, Connie (Joanna Christie).
As a history lesson and a primer for the insanity to come, ‘Descenso’ does what it needs to do. As the first episode of what can be construed as a bit of a hard sell new series, the jury’s out if this is enough to win over uncertain viewers.
- Hope no one started watching Narcos for a glimpse of Pedro Pascal as DEA agent Javier Pena ’cause he is barely in the episode. Presumably as Murphy’s partner he will have more to do moving forward.
- The reminder of the differences in technology available to police back in the late seventies/early eighties is remarkable. In this age of nearly universal wi-fi and cell coverage, it’s easy to take for granted what our technology can accomplish.
- Escobar (bribing and threatening his way into business): “Silver or lead. You decide.”
- Cockroach (discussing how to manufacture cocaine paste with Escobar): “Look, I like to use children because of their tiny feet.”
- Escobar (laughing with 2nd in command, Gustavo, about the mom & pop coke operation): “Let’s build them a chimney.”
- Gustavo (displaying remarkable acceptance of Carlos): “Oh for sure he’s gay but he’s got good routes.”
- Escobar (when General Herreiez asks to renegotiate): “Eat. Shit”
Your turn: what did you think of the first episode? Are you invested enough in the series to move forward with it? If you don’t know much about Escobar, did you have difficulty keeping up with the history lesson? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you have watched ahead.
Narcos is now available in its entirety on Netflix. Check back Thursday for our review of episode 2.