A television show with characters and events based on real life in which only some of stories have been heightened for dramatic affect sounds either like an intriguing new concept or every historical drama ever. Throw the words; “original Netflix program” in the mix and it’s starting to sound more like the former is true. Narcos is Netflix’s latest attempt at a big time drama set to get the binge-watchers out there a-salivating. Borrowing from real life and taking full advantage of their poetic license intermittently, Narcos is something of a new take on the “based on real life” story. Whether this new approach is worth the watch is another question and in the next thousand words or so I shall do my best to provide you with an answer.
With so many blurred lines between reality and fiction it is difficult to sort Narcos’ truth from fiction but essentially the show is a retelling of the Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura). After Escobar’s cocaine empire takes a grip on Miami, the American government sends down fictional DEA agent, Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) to help the Colombian government put a stop to Escobar’s tyranny. Few characters in and around Escobar are based on reality but the other key player from history is former Colombian president, César Gaviria (Raúl Méndez).
The idea to fictionalise certain events of Escobar’s story would serve as a decent storytelling device if the writers had come up with some more interesting plot points than the true story. Unfortunately that is not the case with Narcos and it is difficult when your real life antagonist blew up a passenger plane to get at the future president of the country (not a spoiler because it actually happened in real life). Nothing is much more dramatic in the Narcos tale than most of the true events and for this reason the blurred reality technique just becomes annoying by the end. It would be nice to know that what you are watching is mostly true so you could feel the sense of learning the true history of your world. Equally it would be good if the show was more entertaining than reality and Netflix could notch this show up as another exhilarating drama. Regrettably, neither is true and I can’t go around boasting about my knowledge of the world’s richest criminal nor can I annoy my friends with yet another television recommendation that they are sure to ignore.
I’m sure the real Pablo Escobar was an incredibly interesting person and I’m not just saying that because I’m scared of him putting a hit out on me from beyond the grave. From all the stories, Wikipedia articles and even photos, he looks like he was much more interesting than Narcos’ version. That is not the fault of Wagner Moura, who along with the rest of the cast pulls off some pretty impressive acting, but rather the writing. If you were to ask me to explain any of the characters from this show I could sum the entire cast up into two categories; good guys and bad guys. There is no in between and sure some of the good guys do bad things but ultimately they forced to do these things by the villains and for the aim of a happy outcome.
That’s not to write the show off entirely and as I feel I should reel off a few of the show’s more positive points. As I said, the acting in Narcos is top standard and one of the chase scenes involving the DEA agents and two of Escobar’s henchmen is very exciting. The directing can be beautiful at times and there are some very striking shots, notably the sweeping shots of the city. The most positive thing I would say about this show is that it is genuine. A lot of work has gone into making this show as real as possible and they don’t do the general Hollywood trick of getting a bunch of Americans in the desert to speak English in a slightly racist Colombian accent. All of the Colombians speak Spanish and you can tell they actually went to Colombia to shoot the scenes. Of course, a lot of the actors are really from South America and there was no expense spared on the budget.
Of course as you have probably gathered by now, in my opinion the negatives out way the positives and now it’s time for some of my nit-picks. Number one; almost everyone has sex in the same room, seriously there is even a crossover between a married man and his mistress in supposedly an entirely different place. Number two; Murphy is a terrible agent if he is not able to hear a gunshot over the phone, gunshots are very loud and just because the person was two metres away from the phone it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have heard that. Finally and probably more seriously, there comes a point in any drama where death is not shocking any more. So many people die on Narcos that I can’t even remember them all and by the end I didn’t even care.
Narcos is neither amazing nor terrible and I was very tempted to just type the word, “meh” in size 300 font for this entire article. My suggestion would be to watch this show as a documentary and just pretend in your mind that everything you are seeing is true, that way it will be a lot more entertaining. Also, if you are looking for closure, you are looking for it in the wrong place, again I suggest Wikipedia. Narcos would have served better as an anthology series, revolving around different criminals each season, they could even had the criminals crossover if they wanted to. All in all, I’m just glad I made it through this entire review without once calling the show Nachos, which even though the show is set in Colombia, still feels a little racist to me so I apologise.