Crossing the Netflix series Narcos with the Sicily scenes from Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather is such a whizz-bang idea it's astonishing nobody has thought of it sooner. ZeroZeroZero (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 9pm) understands what a fantastic premise this is and goes about splicing these two archetypes of the mobster genre – Latin American narcowars and rustic Mafia melodrama – with a gusto that occasionally strays into gleeful.
But then it throws in a third element: a Succession-without-the-laughs family drama with Gabriel Byrne as a corrupt New Orleans freight magnate. Byrne is great, too, channelling some of the desperate swagger of his character from The Usual Suspects.
Still, that’s a lot of balls in the air. And a lot of bullets flying about. Yet ZeroZeroZero – adapted from the 2013 book by the Gomorrah author, Roberto Saviano, and named after the “purest cocaine on the market” – makes it work.
People are gunned down, slashed across the throat and fed to the pigs. One disturbing early scene features a stricken child caught in crossfire. ZeroZeroZero has no intention of glamorising drug traffickers
That’s partly because of a dazzling lack of sentimentality. People are gunned down, slashed across the throat and fed to the pigs. One disturbing early scene features a stricken child caught in crossfire. What this makes immediately clear is that ZeroZeroZero has no intention of glamorising the drug traffickers, a trap into which the otherwise compelling Narcos sometimes stumbles.
The interweaving plot lines hopscotch across the map. In Calabria, in the toe of Italy, an ageing ’Ndrangheta godfather named Don Damiano (Adriano Chiaramida) has emerged from his subterranean hideout and declared himself back in business. This presents a roadblock to his suave, power-hungry grandson, Stefano (Giuseppe De Domenico), who doesn’t want to see his grandfather sleep with the fishes so much as fed to the swines.
In Mexico, meanwhile, special-forces sergeant Manuel (Harold Torres) sells his soul to his local cartel, in Monterrey, even as he seeks redemption at his neighbourhood revival church. And in New Orleans the patrician Edward Lynwood (Byrne) worries about his legacy. He wants to leave the shipping business to his hard-nosed daughter, Emma (Andrea Riseborough). But that will cut out his son, Chris (Dane DeHaan), who is slowly succumbing to the genetic curse that cut short his mother’s life.
Byrne, Riseborough and DeHaan are the moral core of the action, in that they are the only people who seem to have anything vaguely approaching morals. DeHaan's character is particularly fascinating. He is not in the least cut out for crime. But he knows his life is about to be rendered cruelly short, so there is a sense of a person with nothing to lose.
It is true that the Mexican and Italian characters are far more caricatured and that ZeroZeroZero can be accused of surveying the narcotics trade through an Anglocentric prism (while glossing over the fact that those same Anglos are the ones buying all the drugs).
Yet it’s so gruesome, fast-paced and full of cruel twists that you can’t look away. ZeroZeroZero is dark and unsettling. But it’s also a binge-watcher’s paradise.