Narcos is a helluva good programme (but not if you live here)

(Last week some of this blog made it’s way onto TheJournal.ie. Major shoutout to my old boss Susan Daly for making that happen.)

If you haven’t seen Narcos and plan on watching it, this contains a few spoilers. 

Plata o plomo?

Plata o plomo?

Have you seen the programme Narcos?

It’s about the rise and fall of notorious drug boss Pablo Escobar, who (as anyone who has seen the it will tell you) was once listed by Forbes as one of the richest men in the world and whose Medellín drug cartel controlled the bulk of cocaine entering the United States in the 1980s.

It´s a pretty great show.

It’s narrative centres on the efforts of DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena as they come agonisingly close time and again to nailing the drug kingpin.

The programme’s greatest strength is its pseudo-documentary feel, with pictures of the real Escobar and news footage from the time period interspersed between dramatic renderings of the pursuit of the drug lord.

The opening sequence even finishes with a close up of the real Steve Murphy, who, I think it’s fair to say, actor Boyd Holbrook is sort of a better-looking version of.

You see what I mean?

You see what I mean?

Much as I like it, people here do not; if you take a step back, it is easy to see why.

Imagine Amy Adam’s Leap Year, but rather than focusing on the romantic follies of an American overseas, the film’s hammed-up accents and clunky local  references actually centre on the exploits notorious loyalist paramilitary Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair.

That’s basically what Narcos is to the people of Medellín.

For starters, Wagner Moura – the actor playing Pablo Escobar – isn’t Colombian.

Not a major crime in itself, but Moura isn’t even from a Spanish-speaking country – he’s Brazilian.

As much as I enjoyed his performance, that’s sort of like letting Gérard Depardieu play Winston Churchill.

"I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Secondly, like any decent anti-hero-centered drama, the viewer is left in the driving seat about how much sympathy they should be affording to Escobar.

To draw sympathy for their protagonist, the creators lean heavily on the relationship between him and his cousin Gustavo Gaviria.

Other than Escobar’s wife Tata, his children and his mother, Gaviria is portrayed as the only other person in his circle that he has a deeper bond with.

Escobar’s most sympathetic moment comes when he imagines seeing his dead cousin – who was killed earlier in the series – one last time in a park moments before being killed in a police raid while trying to flee across the city’s roofs.

At this point – unshaven and overweight – the drug kingpin is shown at his lowest ebb, with his empire in ruins and unable to provide for his family.

During my first week in Medellín a tour guide told me that there is about a 95% to 5% split in Colombia when it comes to support for Pablo Escobar, with the majority against him.

My Spanish teacher later told me it was probably more like  80% to 20% in Medellín.

Either way, by the time he was killed, I felt pretty bad for the world’s biggest ever drug trafficker.

I imagine that at least some of Netflix’s global viewership might have felt something similar, and you can see why that might annoy a few people who can remember the devastation caused by his criminal empire.

Photograph taken of the real Escobar after he was killed

Photograph taken on the real Escobar after he was killed

The last thing that that has drawn the chagrin of the people I have spoken to in Medellín – and what has come up most in relation to the programme – is that it is told from an US point of view.

That’s hard to refute.

While the main actor and director and Brazilian, the show has an US writer and is backed by US money.

Whether or not that had any influence on the creative process, the show does still focus on a couple of US mavericks dishing out some much needed justice way south of Mexico.

In don’t know too much about this – and because I’m not being paid to write this blog I’m not going to bother doing any research – but I’m not sure that two foreign agents (and one that doesn’t speak Spanish) were quite as an integral part of tracking down Escobar as was made out.

Or maybe they were, I don’t know.

Saying all of that, it’s a great programme.

Really, really good.

Just not so much if you’re Colombian, and especially not if you’re from Medellín.

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