Stock up on food, pull the curtains closed, sit back and prepare for a television binge that will leave you with square eyes and white knuckles.
Not since Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s last batch of blue crystal meth has Netflix offered up a crime and drugs drama quite this addictive.
Based on the true story of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), leader of the infamous Medellin cartel, comparisons to Breaking Bad are going to be hard to shake off.
Told both in English and Spanish from Escobar’s perspective and that of American DEA agent, Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), partner of Javier Peña, the Mexican agent who brings Escobar down, the producers have sought to appeal to American and Spanish audiences equally.
Game of Thrones fans will doubtless be excited by the presence of Pedro “Oberyn” Pascal (last seen with his head being crushed by Gregor Clegane) as Peña.
Pablo Escobar versus Walter White
He’s a lot more successful than the hapless chemistry teacher. The “Narcos” industry makes $5bn a year and old Pablo is in receipt of a hefty slice. Having been born into poverty by 28 he’s richer than he could have possibly dreamed off. Which, considering clever old Walter managed to rake in the millions but never managed to hold onto them (or keep them under the floorboards) for long enough to actually buy anything decent, means Escobar is already doing considerably better.
But both are unlikely-seeming criminals. The softly-spoken White is quite a contrast to the confidently criminal Escobar, but their shared, and utterly misplaced, sense that what they’re doing, utterly ruthlessly, is for their families draws parallels. “He loved his family. He was loved – he’s still loved by a lot of people in Medellin. And he’s still one of the most terrible killers in modern history,” remarks Moura.
Steve Murphy versus Hank Schrader
Played by former fashion model Holbrook, Murphy is a lot more glamorous than Walter White’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (the brilliant Dean Norris). Providing the eyes and narration for much of the drama Murphy is being presented as America’s moral compass in the show and he charts the change from small-scale cocaine smuggling by 1970s hippies to the huge industry built up by the Medellin cartel and the dangers it brought.
Old Hank might have only had one nemesis in his sights, but Murphy has a whole host of big name targets and the influx of coke to America is a tsunami he can’t possibly blockade.
“Steve begins as a slightly naïve, uniquely American character who thinks ‘This is easy…I’m gonna go down to Colombia like John Wayne,’” Newman says. “And what he starts to realise is that it is much more complicated than that. There are good-bad guys and bad-bad guys…and the grey-are guys.”
Jose Padilha versus Vince Gilligan
Jose Padilha versus Vince Gilligan
Brazilian director Padilha is executive producing and the results are therefore reminiscent of his 2007 film Elite Squad. Because he’s been a documentary filmmaker, and because Narcos is based on a true story, he intersperses archival footage and real photos with the drama shot at the actual locations they happened. “We don’t have a studio, we shot where things took place,” Padilha reveals. “We went to Medellin to shoot Medellin…it’s very original in that sense.”
Because it is a period piece the stylishness of Narcos is very different from Vince Gilligan’s colour saturated and hugely recognisable cinematic style. But something of the energy and chaotic movement between characters might draw parallels. Although the more serious (and if possible, expect it to be even bloodier) Narcos is unlikely to have Gilligan’s lightness of touch and situation humour.
All ten episodes of Narcos season 1 arrive on Netlfix on 28 August
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies