The story of the crimes, life and death of Pablo Escobar has long been a pop culture mini-industry unto itself. Even before the Colombian drug warlord died in a shootout in 1993, he and his multibillion-dollar cocaine-supplying Medellín cartel had taken hold of the media and the public’s imagination in both South and North America. One day the definitive tale of Escobar will hit the small or big screen, but, as I say in my video review above, the August 28 debut of Netflix’s Narcos is not that day.
It’s not that the 10-episode series, which is available in its entirety early Friday, is bad. It’s not. In fact, there are elements of greatness in the Gaumont International Television co-produced Narcos. However, like cheap drugs, it has been stepped on and chopped up too much and loses most of its kick in the process.
In what seems a pretty clear attempt to reach as many markets and multiple demographics as possible for the ever-expanding streaming service, the series executive produced and directed by José Padilha melds three stories together. With Brazilian star and past Padilha collaborator Wagner Moura as Escobar, there’s the often over-the-top rise, rise and then fall, of the ruthless kingpin and his crew. That storyline is in Spanish and subtitled for the Angelo audience – and that’s the show that could have proven quite addictive and binge-worthy.
Partially diluting that saga is the informative but also distracting history of the U.S.’ geopolitical involvement in Central and South America through the later Cold War era of the 1970s to the 1990s. Great for background, but lousy for narrative. Finally and most fatally to Narcos, there is the story of the DEA’s efforts to try to stop the supply of cocaine and other drugs as the demand escalates Stateside. Overtop all of that, in an obvious Goodfellas-lifted technique, is the often-lumbering voice-over from the DEA’s Steve Murphy, portrayed by Boyd Holbrook. Pedro Pascal, well-known to Game of Thrones fans, plays Murphy’s partner Javier Peña.
Serving too many masters, the fact is the tale of do-whatever-it-takes DEA agents on Escobar’s trail renders Narcos unsure, unfocused and ultimately far too procedural. An interesting attempt to step into Netflix’s truly multi-national and multi-lingual future, Narcos is a transitional series at best by default.
Take a look at my review of and tell us what you think. Will you be spending this weekend with Pablo Escobar?