by Adam Kaplan –
When Narcos debuted in the summer of 2015, it did so without any hint of television prestige or high-glossy sheen. It was a gritty, pulpy version of a story told and re-told many times in American pop culture from guys best known for creating the movie S.W.A.T. without starring any household names. It wasn’t meant to be any sort of Emmy-bait, nor did it try to be. What is was was a combination of a Wikipedia entry mixed with a knock-off Martin Scorsese film. Yet just as Narcos was unapologetic about what it was, I was unapologetic for my love of the show.
Narcos is a show about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Maura) and the D.E.A. agent (Boyd Holbrook) who put an end to Escobar’s reign of terror. The Pablo Escobar story is a familiar one, and Narcos doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It’s a classic gangster story, so it pulls its tropes from the best. Narcos is basically a television version of Goodfellas. It has a voice-over telling the audiences of the bad deeds of bad people. Yet Narcos never tried to be as technically creative as Goodfellas was. Whereas Goodfellas had classic oners and innovative use of score and music, Narcos just has shots of people getting shot and blown up. That’s not meant to be a pejorative or a knock on Narcos, and in fact, it’s what made the first season so good and enjoyable.
Another reason for the first season of Narcos’ success was that it seemingly told a self-contained story. The arc of the season was both the rise and the fall of Pablo Escobar. Based upon how its first season ended, I didn’t think the show had anywhere else to go. That’s why I wasn’t terribly excited for season two. Not only was I wrong and the show had a plethora more story to tell, but Narcos upped its game and told its story in a more rich and cinematic way.
Season Two of Narcos is better than its freshman year in large part to the filmmakers taking time to work on their craft. The editing is smoother and more coherent, the episodes are more thematic, and the characters are deeper. Season 2 also pushed the focus away from Holbrook’s Steve Murphy and pulled it towards Maura’s Escobar. Wagner Maura was and is so fantastic as Escobar; the way he brought humanity and warmth to one of the World’s most evil men was award-worthy. The performance is even better knowing that Maura, who never spoke a word of Spanish coming into the show, spoke the language fluently. It only made sense then to make Maura the true-star as opposing to playing co-lead with Holbrook.
At its core, Narcos is a gangster-epic, and it did a damn good job living up to its potential in its newest season. Not only do we still have the bad guys acting like bad guys, fights and bombings and shootings, and the cop working as an agent for the men he’s trying to stop, but we have these stories being told in the best way possible- both in front-of, and behind, the camera. Again, Narcos put itself into a hole at the end of the second season, making its next upcoming season just as unlikely. However, unlike at the end of the season one, I’m extremely pumped to see where Narcos is going to take me in Season Three.