Despite some storytelling and pacing issues, Netflix’s new series Griselda is a beautifully shot show with a fascinating character leading it.
“The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco” is a quote by Pablo Escobar which opens Netflix’s Griselda. This is not the first time the story of Griselda has been adapted to the screen. Less than 10 years ago, in 2018, her story was adapted for TV in a television biographical film called Cocaine Godmother, where Catherine Zeta-Jones starred as the lead character. If nothing else, at least this time Blanco is portrayed by Sofia Vergara, a Colombian-American actress, remaining accurate to her background and country of origin, rather than a Welsh woman.
From the creative team behind Narcos, Griselda focuses on its titular character, the notorious drug dealer Griselda Blanco (Sofia Vergara). The show starts when she leaves Medellín with her three sons to start a new life in Miami. Griselda has left Colombia with virtually nothing except a kilo of cocaine and a dream of a better life than the one she left behind. As she starts dealing in the United States, Griselda makes some powerful enemies and finds potential allies – including Darío Sepúlveda (Alberto Guerra) and Rivi Ayala (Martin Rodriguez) – on the offset of the Miami drug war. At the same time, we follow June Hawkings (Juliana Aidén Martinez) and the police department as the creation of the CENTAC attempts to end drug trafficking in Miami.
I loved the cinematography in the Netflix show, featuring some shots that the audience cannot help but admire as Griselda’s story keeps moving forward. The acting in Griselda is great, with an excellent ensemble cast led by Sofia Vergara. It is particularly impressive how she, as well as the rest of the cast, was able to put on a brilliant performance both in Spanish and English, which was no easy task, as both languages are used in the show. I particularly appreciated the use of the Spanish language, which adds another layer to the characters and further underlines their background and ethnicity. As mentioned, this is particularly relevant as it has been erased in previous adaptations, despite being key to the very story of Griselda Blanco.
More than anything else, Griselda is a character study of its protagonist. Compared to her, everyone else disappears: Griselda always remains the sole focus on every single scene she is in, thanks to Sofia Vergara’s magnetic acting. Despite Griselda being the main character the series is centred on and the dramatized re-edition of the story we see in the series, I did feel like the show left me wanting more. Her character development seems rushed at times and her motives are too unclear by the end of the Netflix show.
But Griselda is not the only single Hispanic mother in Miami. The parallelism between her and June is the most interesting part of the entire show. During Griselda, we see both of them struggling with the same issues: sexism and gender discrimination in a male-dominated working environment, and the difficulty in balancing their job with motherhood. While all of this is set up very well, Griselda never goes deeper in analysing the similarities and differences between these two women. I had hoped this plotline would lead to a final confrontation between Griselda and June, but when it does finally happen, it feels underwhelming and expositionary rather than a fitting payoff for both of their characters.
While the stakes of Griselda are clearly high, some of the conflict feels a bit artificial at times and overly dramatized to move the plot along. Similarly, the motivation of the characters, and their development, such as Darío and ever Griselda in the last two episodes, is not always clear and often rushed. Throughout the show, we keep hearing about Griselda’s fame and the name she made for herself in the drug business, so much so that she is often referred to as “The Godmother”. However, I also felt a lot of this was directly said to the audience – and Griselda – rather than shown in the actual episodes.
I found the overall issue with Griselda to be a pacing one. Some plot points are introduced and dropped too quickly for me to actually care or have time to understand their repercussions, especially in the second half of the season, which ultimately hurts the feeling of danger and threat Griselda seems to be constantly under. The episode structure also does not help as it always follows the same formula, with a slow beginning and cliffhanger high stakes ending, and thus becomes fairly predictable by the end of the show.
Fans of Narcos will most likely appreciate watching Griselda, but the show could have probably done more with its premise and themes it wants to touch upon. It is still fairly enjoyable to watch, mainly thanks to Sofia Vergara’s brilliant acting performance, and allows the audience to learn a lot about Griselda Blanco who we may not have known much about before the Netflix show. But with so many other shows on the same streaming and on the drug business itself, Griselda has a lot to compete with and does not manage to stand the comparison.
Griselda will be available to stream globally on Netflix from January 25, 2024.