Sunday, October 04, 2015

Narcos - A Review

The standard of TV series increases with each passing year, and just when I thought 2015 had met its quota of small screen awesomeness, Netflix's Narcos comes along. And blows my mind.

I actually had zero prior knowledge about this show, but stumbled upon a rave review in People magazine, after which I checked and saw its whopping 9.1/10 rating.
I gave episode 1 a try and was instantly hooked. I'm currently at the halfway mark, but judging from the way things are going, I'll probably end up rating it a 9 or 10.

In fact, I think it's even better than Breaking Bad.

So what's the appeal?

Before I go further, it's important to emphasize that my taste in TV is very unpredictable, especially now that I have access to so many programmes from countless sources. That's probably how I finally discovered what I really like.

My list of favourites includes both mainstream and much less popular fare, the top 3 being Dexter, The Killing and House Of Cards. Narcos is so incredible that I foresee it hitting the #4 spot.

The show's premise is simple, following America's efforts to capture notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, during the Reagan administration.

Doesn't sound very interesting on paper, but the presentation of this content is absolutely riveting.

I read about Escobar when I was a teenager. There're vivid memories of my poring over Time magazine, which documented his bloody exploits in a number of feature articles. Narcos, however, delves deep into the story and spits everything at you at breakneck pace, and best of all, the writers assume the audience will keep up. If you fall off the cliff at some point, that's just too bad.

Believe me, the ride is definitely not an easy one. 50% of the dialogue requires subtitles; the number of Colombian characters will make your head spin ( not helped by the fact that quite a few of them look somewhat alike ); the cat-and-mouse games between Escobar, the Colombian and American governments, the DEA and the CIA make Game Of Thrones look like child's play.

And the cast! From Wagner Moura as Escobar, to Boyd Holbrook as DEA agent Steve Murphy and Pedro Pascal as CIA officer Javier Pena - these 3 amazing actors burn up the screen.

They're not your typical gorgeous male specimens ( though I consider Pascal extremely attractive ), but each exudes his own brand of charisma. The best reasons to watch this series, IMO.

Special mention goes to the show's stellar team of writers, who never waste a single word and consistently churn out high-octane dialogue. They generously sprinkle every episode with voiceovers by the lead character, i.e. Murphy, which Holbrook delivers in a relaxed, monotonous drawl. Many of these occur during violent scenes, causing me to wonder if the writers and / or directors orchestrated this to convey a sense of irony. I find it highly amusing. :)

The series itself is terrific, but I do have a favourite scene which is on par with something from Breaking Bad's first season ( i.e. episode 2, featuring a drug dealer's disabled uncle who communicates by ringing a little desk bell ). In the 3rd episode of Narcos, after Murphy's beloved cat is murdered as a warning, he and CIA partner, Pena, doggedly track down 2 immigration officers who revealed the former's identity to the drug cartel. The interrogation scene at the police station, where the suspects are sternly informed that "This is a gringo cat of the DEA!" is a classic! I have no idea how all the actors managed to keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing!

I can't confirm how historically accurate Narcos is, but I believe key events are correctly portrayed ( the car bombs were definitely in the Time magazine pieces ). I accept some degree of dramatization in every biopic as long as it's done tastefully and doesn't distort facts to the point of absurdity.

If you're game, start watching now.