Much like their subject matter, Netflix’s string of cartel crime series are like an A-grade substance we just can’t get enough of. And that winning formula continues with their latest show, Griselda.
Brought to you by the Narcos team, including co-creator Eric Newman, the crew has once again stuck to their guns dramatizing shocking real-life events on a vicious yet stylish backdrop. Directed by Andrés Baiz, Griselda follows the savvy and ambitious Griselda Blanco Restrepo, who used her charm and savagery to create one of the most powerful cartels in history. The cast includes a lethal blend of old faces and new ones from Vergara (who also acts as co-producer) to Narcos: Mexico's Alberto Guerra.
There are many shocks and surprises in the series, so my advice is to avoid googling about the real-life Griselda Blanco beforehand, and go into this one blind.
We’re in a Vergara-renaissance
Known by many names such as the Black Widow or Cocaine Godmother, the real-life Griselda grew up in a world of poverty, crime, and desperation, before using her street smarts and charisma to build one of the biggest drug empires Miami has ever seen. Thanks to her ruthless perusal of power and money, estimates suggest she and her team were smuggling up to 1.5 tonnes of cocaine into the US per month at the height of her criminal career, also having links to the Medellín Cartel (once led by the infamous Pablo Escobar).
Much of what we see in the series is actually true (according to reports), but in fact, the real 'cocaine mami' went even further than her on-screen persona, and is thought to be responsible for over 250 deaths, committing her first murder at 11 years old. With such a colorful character comes great difficulty in casting the perfect actor. Needless to say, I wouldn't have put my money on Vergara taking the role, but boy was I proven wrong.
Known for her portrayal of the glamorous and melodramatic Gloria Delgado-Pritchett in the ABC sitcom Modern Family, Vergara has up until now mostly been recognized for her comedic and rather satirical acting. But prepare to change your mind about that, as she shines as Griselda. Much like Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, Vergara is almost completely unrecognizable as Griselda thanks to prosthetics. However, her whole demeanor also makes one forget it is the comedy star underneath that make-up.
Vergara’s portrayal has us going as far to sometimes root for the heinous criminal. In the first few episodes, we witness Blanco face tremendous hardships, from domestic abuse to difficulties in motherhood, and even assault. But her resilience gets her through it. Despite a male director, the show has strong feminine energy, analyzing Griselda’s life as a woman in a predominantly male industry. When I heard one of her competitors utter the words, "You think I’ll give all the power to some mouthy smart bitch?", I felt my blood boil – don't get me started on the sanitary pad used to patch up a wound.
Does it live up to Netflix’s Narcos?
However, due to the length of time spent on Griselda’s struggles and knocks from others, that time is lost exploring the severity of the real-life drug lord’s ruthless nature. As mentioned before, Blanco was thought to be responsible for hundreds of deaths and got to where she was not by playing nice, but by spilling blood and sparing no one.
Due to some of the shared cast and team, I can't help but compare Griselda to Narcos, and by doing so, I can see some of the grit and gore has been lost. Netflix's Narcos has become the blueprint for cartel crime dramas, with its visceral and distinct look at gang behavior. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of uncomfortable and downright brutal moments in Griselda, but when it comes to The Godmother herself, I can't help but feel the team sugarcoated the severity of her actions.
They may have cut the carnage to place the focus instead on the strong female trope with Griselda and homicide investigator June (Martinez). The series looks at how both women are fighting to be heard in a man’s world, against each other. A world run by male drug-lords is something we have seen many times before, but a female kingpin, or rather queenpin? Well, that’s something new. Watching Grisleda pull herself up from prostitution and poverty to being a multimillionaire businesswoman (albeit drug lord) is rather extraordinary and seemingly rare.
Viva la Miami!
If there are three things that this series gets absolutely right it's the setting, soundtrack, and costume. Set in the '70s and '80s, the series has an abundance of nostalgia from the clothing to the decor, like it was pulled out of a Miami Vice episode, but with less pastel and more gold. With big hair, shoulder pads, and statement jewelry, the costuming for Griselda gives other Netflix crime dramas set around this era a run for their money.
Composer Carlos Rafael Rivera knocked the music out of the park with a dramatic score that perfectly matched the emotions conveyed by our leading lady. Not to mention the stellar soundtrack, from Call Me by Blondie to Talking In Your Sleep by The Romantics, I was transported right back to Miami City in its prime.
All in all, Griselda works perfectly well as a mini-series, and although it doesn’t quite live up to the team's previous projects, it offers a different, rather feminine, perspective to cartel life. With Vergara giving the performance of her career so far, what the series lacks in grit, it makes up for in emotion and drama. Another triumph for the Narcos crew!