‘Club de Cuervos’ Review: Netflix Soccer Drama Fails to Score

Debauchery and soapy machinations are not enough to make the streaming service’s first Spanish-language original drama interesting

For a series whose opening moments include both a hookers-and-blow extravaganza and a scene in which one main character coldcocks the other, “Club de Cuervos” ought to be more fun than it is. This Mexican dramedy–Netflix’s first Spanish-language original series–chronicles the inner workings of a wealthy family that owns a beloved but struggling soccer team. But although the show has a few juicy moments, the overriding feeling is that, at least after two episodes, there may not be enough delicious scheming or bitchy backbiting to justify a binge watch.

Co-created by filmmaker Gaz Alazraki, whose 2013 comedy “Nosotros Los Nobles” was a hit in his homeland, “Club de Cuervos” is 13 episodes long. As the series begins, we discover that elderly patriarch Salvador has died, leaving the future of his fútbol team, the Cuervos of Nuevo Toledo, in doubt. Although his daughter Isabel (Mariana Treviño) is a smart, dedicated team executive, her irresponsible playboy younger brother Chava (Luis Gerardo Méndez) is selected team president, mostly due to institutional sexism. Isabel had plenty of other reasons to resent Chava–he’s a product of Salvador’s second marriage after Dad left Isabel’s sainted mother–but this latest snub is the final straw, inspiring her to quit Cuervos and focus on one of her father’s other businesses, a lackluster soap company. However, she plans on humiliating Chava by exposing his dalliances with prostitutes and drugs.

Part sports drama, boardroom saga, guilty-pleasure soap and broad comedy, “Club de Cuervos” in its first two installments spends a lot of time establishing its world but not enough convincing viewers that the scene-setting will be worth it. While Chava struggles to learn the ropes of running a team that’s the spiritual and economic center of the small town of Nuevo Toledo, he and his sister must also contend with their father’s latest girlfriend, the stunning and calculating Mary Luz (Stephanie Cayo), who announces she’s pregnant with Salvador’s love child and wants a share of his fortune. There’s a lot of moving pieces in these early stretches, but the machinations don’t add up to much so far.

A big reason is that these characters aren’t particularly compelling. Chava may be self-centered, but as played by Méndez (who starred in “Nosotros Los Nobles”) he’s also a touch bland, lacking the infuriating insolence that would make us annoyed on Isabel’s behalf. As for Treviño, it’s a credit to the actress that she transforms Isabel from being merely another uptight-businesswoman cliché–the character is capable, sexy and funny in a down-to-earth way–but at the same time she’s not much of a rooting interest. Throughout, Alazraki and co-creator Mike Lam strain to milk comedic or dramatic moments for their full potential, instead opting for a general sense of buzzy chaos as Chava, Isabel and the rest of the Cuervos brain trust cope with Salvador’s death and rumors that one of his chief rivals wants to buy the team.

For those who worry that a lack of knowledge about (or interest in) soccer will be a deterrent to enjoying “Club de Cuervos,” the early episodes suggest that won’t be an issue, which is also something of a disappointment. Although each episode opens with a quote from a prominent sports figure, “Club de Cuervos” thus far doesn’t offer much insight into its characters’ milieu outside of the occasional reference to Real Madrid or David Beckham. Perhaps that will develop over the series’ run–a possibly intriguing plotline involves a young footballer’s discovery that bribing the coach helps secure more playing time–but for now, a wait-and-see outlook will have to suffice. The problem is, too much of “Club de Cuervos” feels that way at this point.