Big Mac TV review: Netflix’s “Narcos” just misses “binge worthy” status

Actor Wagner Moura plays infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar in the new Netflix series “Narcos”, which was filmed in Medellin, Colombia.
Actor Wagner Moura plays infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar in the new Netflix series “Narcos”, which was filmed in Medellin, Colombia. AP

One of the best guy’s guy books to read is the non-fiction title “Killing Pablo”, written by Mark Bowden, the author that wrote “Black Hawk Down.”

“Killing Pablo” is about the rise and eventual manhunt to capture notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Bowden told me in an interview once he had the idea to do the book when he was interviewing a federal agent, and he saw a photograph on the wall of several Colombian authorities over a dead Escobar, like a prized fish.

At the time of the interview, which was in 2013 I asked Bowden why he believed the book had not been turned into a movie.

Bowden told me, “It's a great, great story. I think it’s likely it will be made in the long run if not based on my book but a film about that incident. The story of Pablo Escobar is one of the most amazing stories from the 20th century. There are a number of reasons why (my book) drifted off from being made. One of the reasons in the beginning was the studios didn't want to make a movie where the majority of the characters were Hispanic. That reason has evaporated in recent years.”

Since then, the fictional character Vinnie Chase from “Entourage” played Escobar in a “big” movie, Academy Award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro played Escobar in the movie “Escobar: Paradise Lost”, and now Netflix has released a new dramatic series “Narcos” based on his life.

Other than Netflix, the only other outlet that would have tried to do this story told in this way is AMC. It was shot in Medillin, Colombia, which in the ‘80s during Escobar’s height was the murder capital of the world. Much of the dialogue is in Spanish with subtitles. Netflix did everything to make it right, but it’s mostly an uneven docudrama that simply required the story teller to just get out of the way.

Fiction is not required to make the life of Pablo Escobar interesting. The first season of “Narcos” is solid effort but just slightly off. There is room to make this brilliant.

The series explains the rise of Escobar, and his domination of the cocaine trade the made him one of the richest men in the world and gave the U.S. its start in the war on drugs. The show is narrated by American DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who was sent to Colombia to capture Escobar, and it tries to tell his story parallel to the drug dealer.

The show is Wagner Moura, a Brazilian who did not know Spanish before he was cast in this role. Moura is good in portraying Escobar as the pragmatic killer and Robin Hood figure to so many in his native Colombia.

The 10-episode first season spared zero expense, and while it is slow at times the story is so compelling with so many relevant subplots it’s hard to put down. But there are parts that are needless, and the narration sometimes is extraneous. It’s as if the director wants us to make 100 percent sure we are following the drugs, the corruption, the country, and everything else.

The other challenge, of course, is that we know how this story ends. Escobar eventually gets got, but the manhunt, like Bowden said, is one of the most amazing stories of the 20th century.

Season 1 is a good start, and hopefully Season 2 they nail it.