CREATED BY Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro CAST Michael Peña, Diego Luna, Tenoch Huerta, Alyssa Diaz
PLOT In the early ’80s, as Pablo Escobar’s Colombian cocaine operation is in full swing, an ex-cop (Luna) unites Mexican crime factions to form the biggest marijuanasmuggling cartel in history — until a DEA agent (Peña) and his team start closing in.
WHEN WE TALK of expanded TV universes, stories tantalisingly sprinkled with Easter eggs and the satisfying sensation of supposedly separate narrative jigsaw pieces slotting together, we tend to think of superhero shows. But what if that same ethos were applied to the world of a fact-based crime drama? That appears to be the lightbulb ping that led to Narcos: Mexico: a hugely compulsive, sort-of fourth series of Netflix’s Colombian cartel juggernaut which takes the form of a zoomed-out look at the birth of the separate Mexican narcotics trade.
That it is also an example of an innovative solution to one of the problems of Peak TV (namely, a midrun on-ramp suitable for both Narcos obsessives and those who haven’t yet got around to starting the main series) only makes it doubly impressive. There’s even a canny nod to the future in the form of a young version of future crime boss ‘El Chapo’.
Ushered in by a typically pulpy bit of voiceover (“[This story] doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it doesn’t have an ending at all”), we begin in early ’80s Mexico, where Félix Gallardo (Luna) — a Sinaloan state policeman-turned-drug smuggler — spies an opportunity to expand his family’s marijuana operation to Guadalajara. However, just as Félix is showcasing the depths of his violent ambition, a tenacious Mexican-american DEA operative called Kiki (Peña) is arriving in the city as well, ready to take on both the local druglords and law enforcement colleagues ground down by a corrupt system.
This sets up a fairly standard — and very bloody — game of cat-and-mouse between Félix’s fledgling consortium and Kiki’s group of federal agents. Crucially, though, it plays out with Narcos’ signature mix of grimily authentic location shooting (safety was ramped up after a scout for the show was tragically killed during pre-production), hardboiled explanatory dialogue and the sort of blockbuster audacity that means you’re never more than ten minutes away from some brutal act of violent retribution.
Yes, it is, at times, a big-budget game of gangster drama bingo (there are multiple eyebrow-waggling references to The Godfather and one scene involves a VHS screening of Scarface), character motivations can be Rizla-thin and the women are mostly decorative non-entities. But the performances (particularly Luna’s icy, driven turn) elevate it. And the inevitable crossovers with the other major players in the Narcos Extended Universe, when they come, are utterly exhilarating and dextrously handled. JIMI FAMUREWA
VERDICT One of the streaming age’s most purely entertaining shows gets a fascinating reset that balances gangland thrills, quieter contemplative moments and an irresistible dose of fan service.
See kids, drugs arenõt fun.