Remember when Netflix was just a company that sent DVDs to your house in weird envelopes and not a production powerhouse that churned out great television? Neither does anyone else. We are all busy watching their shows on Netflix Instant.
This past August, Netflix expanded their collection of original series with the first season of the crime drama Narcos, which follows the meteoric rise and fall of the iconic drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel. The show follows both sides of the drug trade, the Colombian establishment and their American allies versus traffickers. Narcos is perfect for audiences who enjoy movies and television shows in which characters either protect or perpetrate the law.
Do not watch this show in search of familiar faces. The most famous actor is the Brazilian Wagner Moura, who is not well known in the states. The cast, headed by Moura as Escobar, also includes Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal as DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Peña.
However, despite this absence of star power, each actor is perfect in their respective roles and delivers the type of performance you want from a crime drama. For example, everyone knows that Escobar was an awful person, but portrayed by a baggy-eyed and mustachioed Moura, the drug lord becomes something more substantial than an abstract evil. The actor succeeds in fulfilling the desired criminal archetype: an overall ruthless villain who is a bit sympathetic. Moura’s morose countenance works. His performance makes it seem as though Escobar is constantly planning, unsatisfied with his success.
On the side of the law, Holbrook and Pascal’s DEA agents are a likable pair of Reagan’s warriors who are willing to go the extra mile to get Escobar. The duo, along with Maurice Compte as driven Colombian police officer Colonel Carrillo, push the boundaries of morality and stray from the idealistic path of justice.
Arguably, the ends justifies their questionable means given that despite Moura’s softer representation of Escobar, the character is one defined by an unquestionably ruthless desire for power. Any good crime drama is filled with moral ambiguity and neither the Narcos nor the DEA and their Colombian allies are exactly concerned with ethics.
The show is hardly cops and robbers running around dull sets. The locations used during filming are shockingly beautiful. They range from brick ghettos to the wild, open fields and mountains of Colombia. This focus on the beauty of Colombia is a pleasant touch in a show that does much to portray the country as a lawless war zone, pitting crusading lawmakers and police against vastly more powerful criminals.
There have been complaints that Narcos is somewhat too sympathetic to the story of Escobar and, to be fair, it is. But who cares? This is not without precedent. Pop culture is filled with movies, books and TV shows centered around criminals that change them from villains into anti-heroes.
In the real world, Escobar is dead and he died as he lived, a criminal. The fact that this show looks at the drug lord from a slightly more forgiving angle will not change the popular historical perception of Escobar as a ruthless man whose criminal lifestyle bordered on terror.
One reasonable complaint about this show would be the strange lack of actual Colombians in the cast or production team. The star is Brazilian and his co-stars are spread out across Latin America. The writing team is compromised of a group of established American screen writers. It is a little odd that a show set entirely in Colombia and almost exclusively about Colombians is decidedly lacking in people actually from the country. This is a small yet unfortunate oversight.
Narcos is currently streaming on Netflix Instant. Watch it and wonder how you would have done as a full-time criminal.