'Narcos' crawls into the underbelly of the 1980s cocaine epidemic and examines the man at the center of it all, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura). For the most part, 'Narcos' mirrors other crime dramas like 'The Shield,' or 'Breaking Bad' in that we have a group of horrible people doing terrible things to each other. Also, like those shows, 'Narcos' presents these horrific actions in a compelling way.
I will say, however, that the most grating thing about 'Narcos' is its incessant narration by DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook). I understand the need to explain the historic background behind Escobar, the Columbian cartels, and America's war on drugs, but far too often the narration pipes up with information that we can clearly gain from just watching what's on screen.
The series begins with Escobar quickly climbing the rungs of the Columbian criminal underworld. He starts out as a trafficker and rapidly switches up his operation to produce and distribute cocaine. This savvy business move swiftly makes him one of the richest men on the planet.
Moura's portrayal of the famed cartel kingpin is the centerpiece of the show. The best thing about his performance is there is depth to his character. It's in the silent moments where we can really see the plans forming in his head.
There's a moment in the first season where Escobar, newly named to the Columbia's congress, is outed as a drug dealer by the country's Minister of Justice. It happens in front of everyone, and Escobar sits there. He doesn't say anything. He just stares. Moura has perfected the death stare for this part. It's terrifying, because you see the violence in his eyes. You know, just from that look, that that man does not have long to live.
Like many crime dramas, it has a tendency to drag at times, covering the same ground over and over. But, it always comes back to its constant, which is Moura's performance. He's just that good. He commands attention even if he isn't physically menacing. He's one of those villains who are scarier because of his intellect and resources, rather than brawn.
Filmed on location in Colombia allows 'Narcos' to feel entirely authentic. Moura's performance is the bedrock that the entire show is built upon, but the production value that Netflix has put into 'Narcos' runs a close second.
You can tell that the show isn't haphazardly thrown together. Each episode looks like something you'd see on HBO. The budget matches the scope of the story. Escobar became larger than life and the production of the show reflects his largesse. It's a fitting stage to tell this sort of sordid tale.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Narcos: Season One' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Netflix and Lionsgate. The 10-episode season is packed onto three 50GB discs. Included with the release is a code for a Digital Copy.
Filmed digitally, the 1080p transfer of 'Narcos' looks immaculate. I never watched the show on Netflix, so I can't compare what it looked like when streamed. That's the problem though, streaming all depends on the person's bandwidth so it's hard to gauge a control. Here though, the visuals look great.
From the outset 'Narcos' looks like one of the most cinematic TV shows out there. It doesn't have that "TV look," if you know what I mean. It looks like a film.
The detail here is wonderfully vibrant. Colombia is a verdant place, full of beautiful landscapes and this presentation captures it all. Some of the most detailed shots aren't the close-ups (though those are quite detailed as well) and instead are the vast horizon shots of Colombia's beautiful wilderness. With lower-budget digitally-filmed productions the result of trees in the distance is usually a flat amorphous blob of light and dark greens. Here each tree is visibly separate from the one next to it. Grass, leaves, and branches are all individually distinct.
Black areas are nice and dark. Shadows provide great depth. There are a lot of nighttime scenes with clarity and detail remaining strong. Aliasing, banding, and other anomalies were nowhere to be seen. This is a great transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is a little more on the standard side as far as television presentations goes. That said, it's a solid mix that is technically proficient and gets the job done.
I was impressed with the amount of surround sound generated. Busy city streets, gunfights, and jungle sounds are all piped through the rear speakers with clarity. There's a moment where a baby can be heard crying in the distance and I literally thought it was my one-year-old crying upstairs. I even went and checked. Then I came back, pushed play, and realized that it was a baby on the show.
Dialogue is cleanly presented, whether spoken in English or Spanish. Panning effects, like cars zooming from one side of the frame to the other transfer smoothly. Bass is sufficient during action scenes that require tense music, gunshots, and explosions.
Audio Commentaries – There are three commentaries included here. Moura and director Jose Padilha take on episode one, "Descenso." Episode six, "Explosivos," features executive producer Chris Brancato. And finally, executive producer Eric Newman and director Andi Baiz provide commentary on the season finale "Despegue."
Establishing the Route (HD, 25 min.) – This is an in-depth featurette that focuses on how the series was created.
The Colombian Connection (HD, 15 min.) – Here they focus on the production value of the show and the lengths they go to in order to make the time period and location as genuine as possible.
The Language Barrier (HD, 12 min.) – This featurette discusses the challenges that go along with making a bilingual show.
'Narcos' is an intriguing show and one of Netflx's better original productions. They really went all out on portraying this story in an authentic way and it works. With a great video presentation and strong audio you can't do much better in the TV-on-Blu-ray department. Recommended.