TV X-Streamist | Hail To El Jefe

Addictive Shows About Drug Cartels

Narcos | Credit: Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix

Who would dare allow these crime lords to share a list with anyone but themselves? These superior Netflix series about the drug trade are nearly as addictive as the substances trafficked onscreen. 

Narcos:  Seasons one and two indelibly dramatize the rise of Pablo Escobar and his Colombian cocaine cartel in the late ’80s. Pitting him against various rivals and two DEA detectives, the action is heart-pounding, the characters are densely drawn, and the setting is immersive. Season three is about the Cali cartel kingpins who replace Escobar’s Guadalajara syndicate, and it maintains the high bar for thrilling storytelling.

Narcos: Mexico: Producers refocused what would have been season four of Narcos as another series tracing the rise of the drug trade in a different country. Beginning with a loose group of marijuana farmers from Sinaloa, the spotlight falls on Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo as he unifies the growers and builds them into a fierce, powerful force protected by police and politicians. A young DEA agent (Michael Peña) becomes obsessed with bringing them down amid seriously hair-raising events. Diego Luna as Gallardo gives a performance that reminded me of Pacino as Michael Corleone. 

El Chapo (subtitles, some English): I wouldn’t watch this too soon after watching Narcos (all right, maybe not during the same year), but the series stands on its own as a different chapter in the Latin-American drug-trade story. Here, the rise, capture, and escape of Mexican Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera becomes of contemporary relevance. Considered to be the most powerful of all drug traffickers, he ended up on the same cell block that later housed Jeffrey Epstein and wasn’t finally sentenced until a year ago. The early ’80s in this saga find Guzman in a lowly status as part of the Guadalajara cartel trying to prove himself to Escobar. Although not as slick as Narcos, it’s still intense and habit-forming. 

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