End of Season Report: Narcos, Season 1

3 Mar


Narcos, Netflix’s show about the rise (and theoretically eventual fall) of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the attempts of his rivals and multiple governments to stop him, is nothing revelatory. It’s not a prestige drama steeped in metaphor and deep symbolism, it’s not going to make any end of year best-on-tv lists, and shouldn’t. It’s not going to have friends calling on each other enthusiastically screaming out that they must watch this show. But, and this is entirely not meant as the backhanded compliment it sounds like, it’s a fun, entertaining little show if you’ve got between 9 and 10 hours to kill.

So many shows try desperately to be prestige dramas – important shows that want to put their stamp on the medium in an indelible way. When they succeed, that’s great; Mad Men is rightfully revered for a reason. But, as I was talking with a friend about recently, when they don’t succeed, even when they’re halfway decent rather than bad, they often feel not worth watching. There are simply enough superior versions of that type of show around on TV to bother with shows in the second and third tier. Narcos, thankfully, doesn’t try to do that.

Narcos is low-rent Scorsese, heavy on plot and the back-and-forth deadly chess match between Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel and the Colombian and American governments. Steve Murphy, a DEA agent new to the fight in Colombia at the beginning of the show, narrates in a Henry Hill-in-Goodfellas style, with lots of exposition, explaining what Pablo’s up to. As I said when I wrote a review of the first episode, it’s a story that’s been told before, but there’s a reason for it; it’s simply a fascinating tale, how one man could acquire so much, so relatively fast, and more than that how one man could be as powerful as an entire country.

Narcos is almost enjoyable largely because it doesn’t try to be great; it’s finds goodness where greatness would likely elude it. It’s a fun ride on a fun, genuinely interesting subject that had me doing my best to wait until the end of the season to jump on wikipedia and find out what was true and wasn’t, and what happened to all of the real characters in the show. Calling a series merely diversionary can sometimes sound like an insult; but there’s something pleasurable about watching a show that you can just marathon through, a show that brings recent history to life and makes you wonder how crazy and terrifying our world is from afar.

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