“Club De Cuervos”
If you look somewhere between a traditional Latin American telenovela a la “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea” (the foundation for “Ugly Betty”) and the HBO series “Ballers,” you will find the Netflix gem “Club de Cuervos.” With just the right mix of glitz and grit, this new series takes a melodramatic look at the fate of an upstart Mexican football (let’s not call it soccer) team whose patriarch dies in the first 10 minutes.
Helmed by writer/director Gary Alazraki, “Club De Cuervos” focuses on a football team in the fictional city of Nuevo Toledo whose rise to glory coincides with the growing success of the town’s sports franchise. When the team owner dies while taking a “schvitz” with his son, the future of the beloved Cuervos becomes the center of a battle between slacker son Chava (Luis Gerardo Méndez) and conniving daughter Isabel (Mariana Treviño). Enter the father’s mistress (Stephanie Cayo), who claims to be pregnant with the late club owner’s baby, and we have the makings of a classic telenovela on our hands.
The telenovela is an art form that appears simple, but has been recreated with limited success for mass audiences outside Latin America. Alazraki, known for his 2013 Mexican hit “The Noble Family,” along with co-creator Michael Lam, have taken the elements of a “Spanish soap opera” and emphasized the character interchanges more than some of the predictable plot twists. Leads Mendez and Treviño are brilliant, with a chemistry that is evident in a pair of scenes that begins with them crying on each other’s shoulder and then segues to a key moment went Mendez literally steals the club presidency away from his sister.
While “Club de Cuervos” is a grabber, what is even more interesting is what it represents for Netflix. Key to the streaming giant’s future is expansion to international markets, and “Cuervos,” which has Spanish dialog and English subtitles, will have great appeal to its growing base of Spanish-speaking markets which include Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Peru. The show was shot in Mexico, which makes it more than a lame effort to recreate the proper atmosphere, and great care is taken to ensure the social and cultural references are spot-on. There also are just enough universal touch points to create a sense of timeliness, such as the use of Twitter to document key moments.
Netflix affirms it commitment to its Spanish-speaking market with “Narcos,” premiering Aug. 28, a 10-episode series with English dialog that looks at the life of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. Filmed in Colombia, “Narcos” is a joint production between Netflix and Gaumont International Television.