At first glance, a lot of the shows that Netflix picks up seem to be positioned to check boxes on their roster. “People like Game of Thrones, maybe they’ll go for Marco Polo?”, ”Superheroes are big on TV right now, how about Daredevil?” and so on. Following in that mould, Narcos seems like it’s supposed to fill the gritty-crime-drama-shaped gap in Netflix’s lineup.
Narcos first 10-episode season is available on Netflix this weekend and we came away from the first episode both pleasantly surprised and genuinely impressed with the series.
Set in the 1980s, the series follows the infamous rise of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the efforts of DEA Agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) to take Escobar down. There’s a real willingness here to embrace the sprawling nature of its subject matter. The story of Pablo Escobar is a messy affair that’s often seems stranger-than-fiction and the show really commits to this bit and let the story tell itself.
Well, not literally – the show loosely frames itself around the retelling of Escobar’s story by Agent Murphy. It’s a slick narrative device but it falls short of the dramatic gravitas it’s clearly aiming for. In fact, Holbrook’s whole character actually comes off as quite ancillary in the first episode. Sure, he provides a lot of the historical context for himself and Escobar – but him and Pascal end up with slivers of screen time compared to their adversary.
For the first hour at least, it’s the Pablo Escobar show – and, it’s a good thing too, Wagner Moura is magnetic in the role. He’s every bit as brutal and fearsome as you’d expect and the show plays his performance and Murphy’s narration off of one another in fun ways.
Coming away from the first episode, Narcos is quite compelling. It’s got a rich setting, a fun soundtrack and a solid cast. The series take on Pablo Escobar is as stylish and fun as it is grounded in history – and we can’t wait to burn through the rest of it.
The complete first season of Narcos is screening now on Netflix Australia.