• Gabriel Byrne as Edward Lynwood, in the family cocaine business. (SBS)Source: SBS
The new big-budget drama series hits the screen with an intoxicating blend of power, violence and drugs.
Dan Barrett

14 May 2020 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 14 May 2020 - 3:25 PM

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.

ZeroZeroZero premieres on Thursday, 14 May at 9.30pm on SBS. Episodes are available at SBS On Demand the same day they go to air. Here is episode 1:

More from The Guide
Dane DeHaan, on getting his hands dirty in drug drama ‘ZeroZeroZero’
The star of the gritty saga about the global cocaine industry reflects on reuniting with Gabriel Byrne, bonding with Andrea Riseborough, and the classic Hollywood role he's hankering to tackle again.

The Playlist 120: Hugo Weaving talks 'Hearts and Bones' / 'Never Have I Ever'

In this week's The Playlist, Hugo Weaving speaks about his starring role in the new Australian digital release film 'Hearts and Bones' about the painful legacy of war, and Mindy Kaling embraces her inner teenage girl in 'Never Have I Ever' on Netflix. We also catch up with 'The Last Dance', 'Hollywood' and 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' in What We’ve Been Watching and come up with a couple of SBS On Demand iso-picks.

Soul and sadness: Life behind the spotlight in ‘Whitney’
Her voice defined a generation and secured her status as an iconic female artist, but it also hid a tragic tale of self-destruction.
Five high-profile Australians swap privilege for life on the streets in ‘Filthy Rich & Homeless’
In a three-night special event, the third season of this critically acclaimed show airs from June 9 - 11 at 8:30pm on SBS.
TV Movie Guide Highlights: 11 - 17 May
When it comes to movies, there's something for everybody on SBS, SBS VICELAND, NITV and SBS On Demand. Find out what's screening where and when.
SBS World Movies Weekly Highlights: 11 - 17 May
Your guide to some of the stories from around the world, screening on Australia's own HD SBS World Movies channel (Digital channel 32).
Here’s what leaving SBS On Demand in May
Grab your last chance to watch some truly excellent shows and movies.
Top new series in May
Be transported to 16th century Mexico, 1970s Italy and modern-day Canada, among other timelines, as these brand-new series and the highly anticipated return of others bring the top-quality entertainment this month.