The limited series, from Eric Newman and Andrés Baiz of “Narcos,” stars Sofia Vergara as real-life drug boss Griselda Blanco. Even though it’s based on a real person, the limited series’ beats are visible from miles away, and it’s the rare show that feels like it could’ve used two extra episodes if only to avoid an abrupt ending.
Baiz directs the series, with Vergara on the executive production team that also includes co-creators Doug Miro, Ingrid Escajeda, and Carlo Bernard (Escajeda and Miro serve as showrunners). To drive home the “Narcos” parallels — or at least to pull in the hit show’s audience — “Griselda” opens with a quote from Pablo Escobar himself: “The only man I ever feared was a woman named Griselda Blanco.”
The quote is revealed in three parts — the beginning, the fact that she’s a woman, and then the attribution — setting a precedent for building suspense that resolves exactly as expected. Your mileage on “Griselda” depends entirely on your mileage for calling out narrative twists and then watching them play out, even if Newman’s team has honed its execution.
While the on-screen Griselda intimidates enemies with her confidence, it’s Vergara’s own move to the top that leaves a lasting impression. Despite her character’s rote cocaine-girlboss rise and fall, the actress finds and focuses on Blanco’s humanity, especially as she looks out for her children. Anyone in Hollywood is familiar with this tactic for how a creative team cracks a character and makes them appeal to the audience — and familiar with the fact that such practices invite creative liberties. Vergara’s take on Blanco is tough and determined, but quite visibly vulnerable, even tentative, about her own capacity for violence and discipline. It’s difficult at times to reconcile the protective mother with the ruthless kingpin, and the transition from former to latter occurs off-screen between episodes. Fact or fiction, Vergara’s performance casts a sharp light on how she has been underutilized in her career, and just how long a shadow she can cast with production power and a team that knows and pushes her potential.
At six episodes, “Griselda” is a dream binge for the average Netflix viewer, provided one who is desensitized to bloodshed and not particularly hungry for shocking twists — which might be the majority of the Netflix audience. Though it’s not particularly revelatory (women can be murderers and drug bosses too!), it’s the type of show that would’ve hypnotized the prestige TV environment 10-20 years ago, which is still perfectly serviceable today in different ways. The entire cast holds their own, beyond Vergara and into a group including Christian Tappan, Freddy Yate, Vanessa Ferlito, and more. Alberto Guerra has the most to do as Dario, whose arc is probably a spoiler (nothing unexpected) but who eventually anchors the show while the tenuous snow globe of trust and secrecy around Griselda starts to crumble. Juliana Aidén Martinez arrives in Episode 2 as a law enforcement officer hot on Griselda’s heels, a missed opportunity to bring Griselda and her pursuer together for more scenes and capitalize on some compelling chemistry.
So after six hours, when you’ve collected your winnings and gained command of the living room (feeling a bit like a boss yourself), “Griselda” will boil down to something with “Narcos” connections, to a lawsuit involving a man named Michael Corleone, and to Vergara herself. It’s not a bad legacy, even if it was inevitable.
“Griselda” is now streaming on Netflix.