The influence of drug cartel drama Narcos on ZeroZeroZero seems obvious. But don’t mistake this show as a wannabe or clone of the Netflix drama. No. It’s more like ZeroZeroZero leaned in and snorted up all of Narcos at once, ready to start getting wild as it hit its Italian bloodstream.
The result is a drama series that takes the elements of Narcos that gripped so many viewers across the world (the thrill of watching unquestionably terrible people living to excess as provided by the drug trade) with a stronger Italian sensibility and stories about family loyalties and betrayal.
TV you are going to feel
ZeroZeroZero was co-created by filmmaker Stefano Sollima, a director who has deservedly received a lot of attention for his dark Italian crime shows Gomorrah, Romanzo Criminale and the US movie Sicario: Day of the Soldado. His work has been compared in the past to that of Narcos director José Padilha (who also directed the tense Brazilian police film Elite Squad and its sequel). Both filmmakers have produced work with similarly murky examinations of the ties between the police and criminals, and they share a similar filming style, favouring visceral moments that highlight the intensity of violent criminal acts.
Sollima blends together all the expectations and tropes we’ve seen in other drug enforcement movies and TV shows before, and layers in a sense of guttural humanity to it. As a viewer you never have time to think too much about what you’re watching – Sollima wants you to feel it, to relate to the intensity and danger of every situation, and just react.
The drug trade divided
In the first episode, we are introduced to the three tiers of story we’ll be following.
We start in Italy with the buyers. ZeroZeroZero opens with the quiet introduction of the La Piana family. At its head is the aging Don Damiano ‘Minu’ La Pian (Adriano Chiaramida). He has been successfully runnning the local trade, but all the drug buyers in the region are getting restless. La Pian controls the flow of cocaine into Italy and has recognised that the conditions are rife for a power play – for a strike to be made against him.
In an effort to appease everyone, he offers to on-sell a shipment of cocaine at what he claims is the cost price. This keeps everyone happy, but what La Pian doesn’t consider is that the move against him would come not from a customer, but his grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico). Everyone has started to refer to Stefano as Don Stefano. And we’ll probably see that become a reality sooner than later…
We then move to Mexico to meet the sellers. This is where the show really bursts alive with energy. Gone are the subtle power plays that we saw the formation of in Italy. Here in Mexico the violence has taken to the streets. We watch as an elite squad of soldiers are working to shut down a cartel. A surveillance operation falls apart and the soldiers are quick to act. Expect car chases and gun fights; anyone here can be a casualty, including civilians caught in the cross-fire.
And then there’s the dealmakers in New Orleans. In the final act of the first episode we’re properly introduced to the family that will drive the story through the show. Gabriel Byrne plays the father Edward Lynwood, with Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan as his adult children Emma and Chris. Emma is the heir apparent, trained to take over the family business of connecting buyers and sellers in the cocaine trade. Edward takes a macro view of his work, telling his daughter that through their brokering, they are “the engine of the global economy”. Chris is kept in the dark about the work of his father and sister. Affected by Huntington’s disease, Edward wants his son to have as peaceful a life as possible before he’s impacted too much.
All three stories begin to converge by the end of episode 1 as the Mexican soldiers close in on a restaurant where the Lynwoods are deal-making. As the show establishes from the very opening moments, there’s no guarantee that everyone will be making it out alive.