Thrilling TV show offers something fresh
The world is hardly short on gritty crime dramas and the drug trade makes for a particularly obvious story match-up.
And yet ZeroZeroZero is still impressive in a genre bulging with similar starting points with its strong performances and its three interweaving stories told in Italian, Spanish and English.
The eight-part miniseries was adapted from a book by Saviano and centres on a 5000kg shipment of cocaine from Mexico to Italy, told through the perspectives of the buyers (an Italian mob family), the sellers (a Mexican drug cartel) and the brokers that facilitate the transaction (an American shipping family).
In Italy, Don Minu (Adriano Chiaramida) is a mafia boss driven literally underground into a bunker. He places the large cocaine order to replenish the pockets of his 'Ndrangheta, with a "$900 million shower", thereby reasserting his dominance over his disgruntled syndicate.
Gathering his subordinates in woods near his bunker, Minu promises the gang's glory days will return. The misty air is heavy with portent.
But it may not be enough with his grandson Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico) already making deadly power moves to take over.
The shipment is originating in Mexico, from a drug cartel run by the Leyras brothers. The Leyras are big fish but the Mexico part of ZeroZeroZero is being told through the story of Manuel (Harold Torres), a religious true believer and soldier for the Mexican Army who's secretly feeding information to the Leyras.
The third element of this network is the American Lynwood family whose shipping and (secret) drug brokering business is run by patriarch Edward (Gabriel Byrne) with daughter Emma (Andrea Riseborough) his second-in-charge and son Chris (Dane DeHaan) kept out of the family business due to the imminent onset of Huntington's.
ZeroZeroZero has many of the requisite action you'd expect from such a series - just the first episode delivers two chases and gun fights through the streets of Mexico between cartel lackeys and army commandos that are kinetic and thrillingly choreographed.
It's also a really well photographed series, beautifully capturing the different environments of its globe-spanning story, whether it's in a neon-lit Mexican nightclub or on the decks of a freight ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
But it's the character dynamics that make ZeroZeroZero distinct from its legion of compatriots, especially the Lynwood siblings Emma and Chris through whom the role of the broker - not frequently the focus of drug trade stories - is explored.
Emma is the one who's been trained by her father for decades and knows all the ins and outs of his business, but when she needs to take over, the same command of associates and partners is not extended to her - partly because she's a woman and partly because she doesn't have the same history in those relationships.
Her brother Chris has been sheltered from the criminal enterprise but he knows more than their father believes he knows. Despite their father's fervent wish Chris be kept away from it, Emma insists Chris becomes a part of it, that he experience life before he's crippled by his disease, and sends him to accompany the cocaine shipment from Mexico to Italy.
Of course, there are complications and the ship has to divert from its chartered course, which sets off a new set of obstacles. Watching Emma and Chris in crisis, with the tricky bonds of siblings relationships, is what fuels the dramatic tension of this series.
And Riseborough and DeHaan are both very, very good.
Manuel, with a chilling and an enigmatic performance from Torres, is also an intriguing character, a man apparently devoted to god, but a god who tells him his purpose is to be in bed with a violent drug cartel. Go figure.
Even within a well-spent genre like the drug crime drama, the engaging ZeroZeroZero still has something new to show us.
ZeroZeroZero starts on SBS on Thursday, May 14 at 9.30pm while the full season will be available on SBS On Demand at the same time.
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Originally published as Thrilling TV show offers something fresh