Summer 2015 Review: Narcos

2 Sep

Narcos

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the importance of plot in television. Sometimes plot is nothing more than a smokescreen to dig into other aspects of a television show; sometimes plot just gets the viewer on board so the creator can explore characters, relationships, visuals, emotions, and who knows what other themes. Think Hannibal, which had a monster-of-the-week first season only to bring viewers to a crazy and wildly experimental third season where plot was near last on the list of concerns. Rectify has a plot undeniably, but it moves at a snail’s pace so that viewers can take in the reality the characters face.

There’s nothing wrong with plot mattering though, and mattering a lot. The absolute best shows combine a number of elements and plot, or narrative, is a major tool in the TV writer’s toolbox. The Wire focus was wide and deep, but the rise and fall of Avon and Stringer Bell and then Marlo Stanfield was a major hook around which much of the show followed.

They call it storytelling for a reason after all; we like a great story, sometimes everything else be damned. Many mysteries and pulp fiction books are written with nothing but plot in mind. And that finally brings me to the subject of this review, Narcos. Narcos is lacking in many of the elements that denote great television. And it’s not a great show. But damn if it doesn’t have a plot that is immediately intriguing and flows along at smart pace.

Narcos tells a story everyone who has ever watched Entourage has at least a passing knowledge of. It’s about the rise and fall of Columbian drug overlord Pablo Escobar, whose power grew as cocaine took America by storm in the ‘80s. While I still don’t really know the deep details, it’s a story that has obvious movie and TV potential, and there have been several attempts to tell it. Besides the fictional Entourage version, there was a recent film starring Benecio del Toro.

And there’s a reason for all the Hollywood interest. It’s a fascinating story. The sheer size of his empire is staggering, and it’s easy to be attracted to a rise and fall story, even when, or perhaps especially when, the protagonist is a charismatic monster who could be charming, brilliant, and brutal all at once. The story comes from the point of view of a DEA agent who tracked down cocaine in Miami and moved down to Colombia to take the battle to Escobar himself.

That’s pretty much it. There’s a lot of Scorsese-esque narration moving the story along, and adding little historical tidbits and overview. I’m normally not the biggest fan of television narration, but the narration mostly fits into one of the categories I don’t mind as much, merely moving the narrative forward and adding exposition rather than insight. This type of narration can sometimes be superfluous but the story moves along fast enough that skipping forward and setting up scenes with narration isn’t really a problem. There is occasionally some narration which attempts to add big picture personal realizations which I don’t care for, but so far at least that seems to be kept to a minimum.

The protagonists doesn’t seem particularly interesting. The main narrator seems more like a vehicle to describe Escobar’s rise, and Escobar’s story is a lot more interesting than his character. He is a brute egomaniac who murders many, many people, after all. But it’s a well-paced and interesting story, and sometimes that’s enough for a fun view.

Will I watch it again? Yeah, I think I will. It’s nothing so special, but it’s a good story, and there’s some worth to that still.

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