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scene

‘Narcos’ begins strong

| Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Narcos_Banner_WebCindy Du | The Observer

Drug culture has become a popular theme in TV dramas from “Weeds” to “Breaking Bad,” and now we have a new series focusing on the cocaine industry of the ’70s and ’80s. The new Netflix original series “Narcos” tells the story of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar as he manipulates both cocaine smugglers and government officials of multiple countries to become arguably the most infamous drug lord in history.

The history of Pablo Escobar in the Mendellín Cartel is fascinating, and “Narcos” takes advantage of the interesting backstory to create a provocative drama. The details of the historical context make the story even more intriguing, but to convey those details the show relies heavily on narration. In TV series such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Dexter” and even “How I Met Your Mother,” narration has been prevalent, but perhaps never in such a documentary style as in “Narcos.”

To allow ample time for action to focus on the drama, the historical context is conveyed through narration. The show inserts other bits of history as well, such as the real mugshot of Pablo Escobar, a video of the iconic “Just Say No” speech and real crime scene footage, which is certainly a double-edged sword when it comes to making the show realistic. Successful in driving home the fact that these events transpired in history, these historical images create a disconnect as well. When presented with the real photo of Pablo Escobar, the man in the series is no longer “real” to us, and it takes some time to re-engage.

The narrator of “Narcos” is U.S. DEA agent Steve Murphy (based on a real person) who is sent to Colombia on a mission to capture Escobar, setting up an interesting dynamic. Though Pablo Escobar is in a sense the hero of the series, the narration of a DEA agent gives the perspective of Escobar as a villain. On the whole, this series seems to pay more attention to the game than its players, focusing on the effects of their actions instead of their inner motives.

Netflix is notorious for binge-watching, but this series appears to be less than binge-friendly. Paying attention to the detailed narration as well as keeping up with the disordered time frame is exhausting. The subtitles that non-Spanish-speakers will have to rely on also pose a huge obstacle. The series is now available on Netflix and is definitely worth checking out if for no other reason than to brush up on your Colombian drug lord history.

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