Bradley Bulch

Narcos series review

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Narcos is the latest original series from Netflix, The show charts the true story of the notorious  Colombian drug smuggler, and richest criminal of all time, Pablo Escobar. The series, set in the 1980s, follows two drug enforcement detectives and their mission to capture the cartel leader.

We are introduced to detectives Stephen Murphy and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal, the Viper from Game of Thrones) in the first episode; the latter of which is one of the more likeable and interesting characters in the series. 

This is because two of the biggest problems with Narcos actually involve Detective Murphy. Along with being a major supporting character he is also the narrator of the series. A technique that isn’t always bad, except everything that happens here is told through his voiceovers; dragging the story along almost assuming the audiences ignorance. This choice in storytelling turns the series into something more of a dramatised documentary than an actual drama, and unfortunately the show itself suffers greatly for it. His voice is a bit of a drain on the ears too, giving him the uncanny ability to make even the most shocking of Escobar’s exploits seem humdrum.

To be honest, Murphy isn’t the most likeable character either. Along with his monotonous voice, he really gives nothing for the audience to latch onto as a character, his personality is dull, with no redeeming characteristics to note, which make him very likeable or even memorable – aside from spouting cliches every ten seconds. In fact, much of the time he comes across as unbearably arrogant, compared to Escobar leading young men into committing unbeknown acts of terrorism however, he’s a saint. Narcos does try it’s best to bring in some sort of character development for Murphy, he gradually gets more violent and ill tempered as the show goes on; presumably his reaction to the constant chasing of Escobar amidst escalating police killings in his name.

The main character of the show is played by Wagner Moura, not exactly the biggest name, but he puts on quite a strong performance as Escobar. Though you will find yourself reading all of his dialogue from the bottom of the screen (If you don’t speak Spanish), his subtle facial expressions and sighs tell more than the dialogue can ever do most of the time. The character himself is played brilliantly, his ego is gigantic, and scenes become more volatile with his presence. Though he rarely ever fully explodes, when he does he is an extremely intimidating character. The escalating violence due to Pablo’s questionable decisions really highlight the madness and internal conflict within the character – he claims he speaks for the working class, yet continues to wage war in the streets of Colombia without regard for their wellbeing.

The most recent advertisement doing the rounds for Narcos deems it the ‘Next Breaking Bad’ though where that statement comes from is anyones guess. Aside from the drug trafficking main character it shares absolutely nothing in common with Gilligans magnum opus. Plot elements are introduced and resolved in the space of minutes in Narcos; take the third episode for example, where Pablo’s dream of becoming president of Columbia takes a step forward after working his way into congress, before being killed off five minutes later when the mugshot taken of him in the first episode comes back to haunt him.

The frantic pace in which Narcos’ story unfolds does make it a perfect fit for Netflix’s all at once release schedule, however. Despite it’s flaws it is an incredibly easy show to binge-watch, in fact, just under 20 years worth of Escobars criminal exploits are chronologically presented in these 10 episodes. This becomes a problem for those who watch shows for the weekly theory discussion and build up after the last episodes cliffhanger; but considering all of this really did happen, theres not really much to make of it in that department. The fact that it all actually happened actually adds to the entertainment. The extreme violence, corruption, sex and drugs (no rock and roll though) all seem unbelievable at times. Even the Medellin cartel, an organisation of drug traffickers set up by Escobar and the Ochoa brothers seems absolutely insane, how could that much evil fit in one room without the roof setting on fire? 

The final episode, ‘Depegue’ ends fantastically, as tension between the Colombian government and Pablo comes to the boil thanks to Pablo’s tendency toward excess – which is a theme throughout the series, it really is all or nothing with him. The same goes for the show, absolutely brilliant at times, with some expertly crafted drama, especially in the presence of Escobar and the rest of The Medellin Cartel. Yet with a tendency to interrupt it’s own flow and narrative through the overuse of voiceover and archive footage. Whatever complaints I might have about Narcos aside, it is still a thoroughly entertaining show, and well worth binge watch if you have a Netflix account.