You really couldn’t miss the recent hype around “Griselda”, with Sofia Vergara channelling the notorious Colombian drug lord, who earned the moniker of Cocaine Godmother and Black Widow during her reign.
Unsurprisingly, the biopic crime drama trended on the Top 10 list in SA when it recently debuted. I’m sure it’s the case globally, as well.
Having watched her in mostly comedic roles in “The Modern Family”, which catapulted her into the ranks of Hollywood’s elite, “New Year’s Eve”, “The Three Stooges”, “Chef” and “Hot Pursuit”, among others, I wanted to see Vergara flex her acting muscles in a more sobering role.
She didn’t disappoint.
First, let’s delve into the story, which is co-created by showrunner Eric Newman, who is behind “Narcos” and Narcos Mexico”, as well as “Narcos” director Andrés Baiz.
It centres on Griselda Blanco (Vergara), who took on the Medellín cartel and other drug lords who stood in the way of ruling the roost in Miami and Florida.
In episode one, streamers are introduced to Griselda. A former call girl, the mother of three finds herself at a crossroads when her second husband Alberto Bravo (Alberto Ammann) asks her to sleep with his brother Fernando (Ernesto Alterio) to wipe off his debt.
She does. But it is the last straw for her.
She takes her three sons Uber (Jose Velazquez), Dixon (Orlando Pineda) and Ozzy (Martin Fajardo) and heads to Miami, where they stay with Griselda’s friend Carmen Gutiérrez (Vanessa Ferlito) until she can get back on her feet.
While Griselda is a protective mother, her ruthless ambitions are also revealed.
In the 6-part series, the first three episodes leave streamers rooting for her. Griselda, in trying to carve her drug empire, is belittled by her male counterparts. It’s a man’s world. And she is not only disrespected but is double-crossed several times before she makes a stand for herself.
In the meantime, her past follows her as Fernando hires Darío Sepúlveda (Alberto Guerra) to track her down to avenge his brother’s murder. But Dario ends up becoming her bodyguard and third husband,
Griselda knows her potential and is artful in aligning with the right heavyweights in the drug business to realise her dream.
Amilcar (José Zúñiga), who is the top dog dealer in Miami, is her first target. But he isn’t keen on doing business with a woman. That said, German Panesso (Diego Trujillo), who admires her ballsiness, takes a chance on her and agrees to partner with her.
While Griselda isn’t without allies - Dario, Chucho Castro (Fredy Yate), a diner worker who becomes her security, and a worker at a diner in Miami hired by Griselda to act as her bodyguard, Arturo Mesa (Christian Tappan), who helps her set up from the get-go, and, eventually, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala-Rivera (Martin Rodriguez), who becomes her top hitman and right hand - she faces numerous obstacles.
In building her empire, she refuses to accept defeat and neutralises her biggest rivals: Papo Mejia (Maximiliano Hernández) and Rafa Salazar (Camilo Jiménez Varón).
Unsurprisingly, Griselda also finds herself on the radar of CENTAC 26 (Central Tactical Unit).
This joint operation between the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) anti-drug operation is helmed by Raul Diaz (Gabriel Sloyer).
And June Hawkins (Juliana Aidén Martinez), a very sharp detective who, tired of being sidelined by her chauvinistic colleagues in her previous department, happily partners with Raul.
In the last three episodes of the series, Griselda attains the holy grail of being a powerful and feared drug lord. Despite becoming a mother again, she is far from settling for running a territory; she wants more.
This cut-throat behaviour consumes her to the point where all that she worked for is threatened by her actions, which stem from suppressed fear.
To say Vergara, who also wears the hat of executive producer, owned this role, would be an understatement. She knocked it out of the park.
The chameleon-like ease with which she flits from nurturing to merciless is commendable and unsettling at the same time.
Although I’m not surprised that this series was made given the real-life Griselda’s pop culture dominance, I did have an issue with parts of the story itself, where the drama was romanticised to a point where it eclipsed the gritty true-life story it was telling. It devolved into a telenovela.
Overall, it’s a great series, though. The poetic justice conclusion ticks all the boxes from an entertainment perspective.
The series stays true to the period with the decor, sets and wardrobe. It is fast-paced, adroitly directed and well-cast. I think the similarities in the journeys of Griselda and June were a smart play by the writers in their good vs evil trope.
“Griselda” takes the audience on a roller-coaster of emotions. At first, the viewer empathises with Griselda’s redemptive story but then they resent her when her insecurities spiral out of control with deadly consequences.
∎ “Griselda” is streaming on Netflix.