In today’s digital age of streaming and relentless bingeable content, the undeniable oversaturation of crime drama series, involving drugs, the drug trade, cartels, organized crime and everything in between is at an all-time high. Some range from serviceable to forgettable, others are good, but there are those which truly stand out among the rest. A prime example would be Vince Gilligan’s "Breaking Bad," but now I witnessed another true standout in the overcrowded genre.
Derived from the insider definition for the purest form of cocaine (000), the series is simply titled "ZeroZeroZero," based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Roberto Saviano.
Created by Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fassoli and Mauricio Katz, this Italian eight-episode miniseries revolves around the journey of a five-ton cocaine shipment from the perspectives of three concurrent storylines: the buyers, sellers and brokers. The show jumps from continent to continent across oceans, while also changing languages every episode, without losing any of its forward momentum. The scope in "ZeroZeroZero" is just massive, so it’s really impressive how every plotline felt distinct yet equally compelling.
The acting on display is top-notch. Andrea Risebourogh and Dane DeHaan (the brokers) lead the ensemble cast as two American siblings attempting to safely deliver the colossal cocaine shipment. They serve as the heart of the show with their story resembling an action-packed family drama, but the true star of the series is Harold Torres’s corrupt Mexican Army solider, Manuel. By covertly working for the fictional Leyras Brothers cartel (the sellers), he’s a captivating, complex antagonist who even attends church to atone for his violent sins. He remains unmatched as the best character. Similarly, the Calabrese mafia saga (the buyers) is equally enthralling, full of betrayal & omertà. It’s the plotline that kicks off the entire show, but there’s an odd period where none of those characters show up.
Granted, the show juggles a lot of characters, so there’s a shortage on intimate characterization. The backstories are sparse, but every character remains compelling with each questioning the moral, monetary and spiritual consequences of the cocaine trade. The series balances the big and small moments as they all vie for supremacy of the shipment. Yet, the closer they get to their prize, the further they lose themselves and fall trap to becoming cogs in the corporate, albeit illegal, machine.
The biggest surprise about "ZeroZeroZero" is its technical wizardry because the series contains some of the best cinematography for television I’ve ever seen. Directors of photography Paola Carnera and Romain Lacourbas deliver rich visuals with excellent contrast lighting, immaculate production design and a distinctly cinematic ambiance. The multiple locations, including the Calabrese hillsides, urban Monterrey, and the vast Saharan desert, have never look so beautiful. It’s a visual marvel that is amplified tenfold by Scottish rock band Mogwai’s haunting score which made for a visceral, goosebumps-inducing experience.
My only problem with the show is that there’s this idiosyncratic flashback gimmick that is employed in just about every episode. Whenever any character crosses paths with another (which, more than always, implies bad news), time slows down, and the audience is shown the other character’s perspective. For me, it worked on a storytelling level, but it always took me out of the trance that the show put me in. I just wish there wasn’t an over-reliance on it.
Despite the flashbacks, "ZeroZeroZero" is a near-perfect, gripping, and entirely engrossing crime saga that left me on the edge of my seat with each episode leaving me anxious for more. Its depiction of the global impact of cocaine illustrates how the drug trade is, like other commerce-based proceedings, a business. While nothing is glorified, the series serves as a gritty study of how this addictive white powder rules the world, leaving considerable death and destruction in its wake. In short, "ZeroZeroZero" is an unforgettable, brilliantly plotted and photographed miniseries that I implore everyone to check out.
"ZeroZeroZero" is now streaming on Amazon Prime in its entirety.