Netflix’s Pablo Escobar Drama ‘Narcos’ Is Bloody And Promising, If Somewhat Flawed

Five things.

1) There is plenty to be excited about with Narcos. Netflix’s latest original series follows the rise of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the efforts of the law enforcement agents and politicians trying to bring him down, and there is no shortage of fascinating source material to be mined there. And Netflix, as has become its practice, also appears to have spared no major expense in bringing the story to the screen. The result is a big, ambitious, visually stunning story packed with a handful of plot twists so out there that they would strain credulity if they weren’t actually based in fact. I watched all 10 episodes this weekend, and I would have no problem recommending it to anyone interested in the subject matter or genre or interesting television, in general. That said, there are few issues that could turn off some viewers, and at least one of them seems to be a recurring problem for Netflix. But we’ll get to those.

2) Wagner Moura is excellent as Pablo Escobar. When the series begins, Pablo is still a mid-level smuggler, moving marijuana in increasing quantities and personally escorting trucks of merchandise throughout the country. By the midpoint of the season, he is the Escobar of legend: living in palatial estates, calling for the violent demise of his enemies, making so much money he literally has to start burying it in the ground because he has nowhere else to put it, etc. Moura does a great job of portraying that rise, and carrying himself with the quiet menace of a man confident and insane enough to try to take over an entire country with a mix of bribery and force. He and Pedro Pascal, who plays one of the DEA agents out to get him, are probably the best parts of the entire series.

3) This really has nothing to do with anything, but this is one of the publicity photos Netflix sent out with the series…

… and it has been cracking me up a little ever since I saw it. I mean, look at Pablo Escobar’s face. He looks more like a mischievous little kid than a violent drug dealer. More Dennis the Menace than actual menace, if you will. It’s like someone is standing on the other side of the camera saying “Hey, Pablo. Is that like 10,000 kilos of cocaine behind you?,” and he’s replying “Maybe…” As someone said to me on Twitter over the weekend, it almost looks like Pablo Escobar is doing a Gilly impression. Bringing it to your attention now kind of undercuts everything I just said about Wagner Moura being terrifying (although I stand by all of it, and would like to clarify that this one still image is not indicative of his entire performance), but it’s too hilarious to leave on the table.

4) Okay, the potential issues:

  • The structure – The series relies heavily on the narration of American DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) to move the story along. This is fine, generally speaking, but when you combine it with the extensive amount of real-life pictures and video from the era that they use, it almost ends up feeling like some sort of quasi-documentary. It’s an interesting way to present the history, and it allows the show to get you caught up on things quickly when it needs to press forward, but there were a few times when I was watching it where I was like, “Man, let Pablo talk.”
  • The slow burn – Maureen Ryan at the Huffington Post made an interesting point recently, which is that Netflix — a company built on binge-watching — does not produce especially binge-friendly original dramas. Both Bloodline and Sense8 took a few episodes to get moving, and even once they did they didn’t have that addictive clickclickmoremorenownow feeling that the best cable and network dramas have. Narcos is kind of the same thing. It definitely takes a bit to get humming, and I don’t think I could fault anyone who said they jumped ship after two or three episodes, especially in a time where there’s 100000000000 “must watch” television shows across 4000000000 channels and YOU’RE MISSING THEM ALL GEEZ.

So there’s that.

5) But once the show does heat up? Yeah, buddddy. The last two or three episodes are tense and violent and promising, and without giving too much away, they set the stage for a second season that could hit the ground running — quite literally — if it comes to be. The whole thing isn’t perfect, but as far as these big gutsy swings Netflix is taking go, it’s a step in the right direction.