Entertainment TV Why Netflix’s new drug show Narcos is a downer
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Why Netflix’s new drug show Narcos is a downer

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Completely devoid of originality, Netflix’s latest crime-drama Narcos is yet another retelling of the infamous story of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Much like The Wire, audiences are given an insight into both the criminals and law enforcement agents as we follow the exploits of Escobar (Wagner Moura) and his crew and the DEA agents pursuing him.

But unlike the beloved multi-layered HBO police drama, Narcos recounts Escobar’s story in the most superficial way possible as a narration from the ‘good guys’.

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We see the action through the eyes of all-American DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) as he employs a string of clichés to help summarise a decade-long investigation into one of the world’s most prolific drug dealers.

Judging by the first two episodes alone, there doesn’t seem to be much innovation in this television rehash. And if it does get any better, they certainly haven’t convinced me to play on.

The first two episodes begin with the narrator giving audiences a taste of what’s to come. Escobar’s operation will gradually increase, establishing the Medellin drug cartel across the US and the South Americas.

It’s a compelling story worthy of revisiting, provided there’s something new to say. Yet there’s nothing original or suspenseful about this television revamp, despite its opening disclaimer that elements of the series are fictionalised for dramatisation.

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar.
Wagner Moura plays Pablo Escobar in the TV series.

The butchering begins with the lead character’s patronising voiceover, with Murphy explaining plot points to us in meticulous detail.

“We didn’t know much but we knew it was some pretty powerful s**t,” he says before explaining to us what cocaine is and its effect on the human brain.

We’re soon introduced to ‘Cockroach’, the man who allows Escobar to establish his empire. Cockroach needs smugglers to help him move his product.

“Like Goldilocks he had three options and pay attention because all three are important to this story,” says a condescending Murphy as he explains why Escobar is the best candidate for the job.

And while the story isn’t completely black and white, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises either. It’s explained that many Colombians viewed Escobar as a modern-day Robin Hood, as he used his wealth to build schools, hospitals and churches in the city of Medellin.

Escobar had enough charisma to charm the pants off journalists, politicians and the authorities, often giving police an ultimatum of compliance or death. This is interesting enough, yet the problem is we’ve seen a lot of this before.

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Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis) also appeared in the movie Blow alongside American cocaine smuggler George Jung (Johnny Depp).

Films such as Blow and Scarface are captivating not just for their exploration of drug traffickers and violence, but how a life of notoriety results in turbulent family relationships.

Instead of finding ways to keep us guessing, Narcos’ first couple of episodes suggest the best method for maintaining viewership is one that is tried and tested: give the audience plenty of gratuitous sex scenes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, however three sex scenes in quick succession seems crass and the third one appears to be thrown in there just for the sake of it.

In episode two, Escobar is seduced by a local journalist and we see the pair getting down and dirty. This is followed by Murphy’s partner who is seen cavorting with a prostitute informant.

The third scene is completely unnecessary as we see Murphy sleeping with his partner in Colombia only to be interrupted by the sound of gunshots. “Welcome to Bogota,” he says casually as we catch a glimpse of his bare bottom.

The silver lining in all of this is a reasonable performance from Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar and some elements of authenticity. Narcos is shot on location in Colombia and almost half of the series is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles.

The Colombian scenery and flamenco music brings substance to the overall story, combined with archival footage of Ronald Reagan and the war on drugs.

If only we hadn’t seen it all before.

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