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Drug Drama: The Evolution Of A Gripping Genre

At the turn of the century, television and movies had changed forever. Not only were the standards of consumers much higher, but technology had progressed in the show business world. Stories no longer had to be confined into just an hour spot on a weekday evening. They could be cinematic, allow time for complex characters to reveal themselves, locations could be scouted all over the world, and all this elevated the stakes for the actors’ performances. Most notably the show that took the torch and sprinted it’s lungs out was, of course, The Sopranos. The dark and brooding nature of the show examined complex natures of the human condition. This was done in a murky world of La Cosa Nostra in the heart of North Jersey. The shots used in the show were reminiscent of that Hollywood filming production. The story for each episode took its time, it didn’t feel rushed, and thus stories were able to flow seamlessly. The latest trend in the drama genre has all had one thing in common. They place the viewer in the world of the underground, with the underlying theme of illegal activity being commenced via drug distribution. There has been a notable evolution in such a show that has kept viewing figures high for almost two decades.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Murkiness of The Wire

The Wire was an HBO show that gripped the American nation. Situated in the filthy and merciless streets of Baltimore, it followed the lives of people trapped in the thug lifestyle. Local kingpins warred against each other for control of ‘the product’ with open and visceral violence. The audience was told the story of a group of youngsters that grew up in broken homes. Drug use was widespread, and there seemed to be no for anyone who decided to stay in ‘the hood’. Parallel to these two narratives, you also had two versions of law and order. The actually Baltimore police and a rogue who robbed the drug dealers themselves in the form of ‘Omar’.

What made this show so special you might ask. It showed the American drug war problem at ground level. Kingpins were ruthless and after amassing a following of thugs and gangsters, they quite literally controlled blocks of territory. Their users or buyers, were the same old people, living locally in boarded-up shanty shacks. The kingpins would be able to supply their chain with a ‘connect’ which would be an outside source bringing the drugs into the various neighborhoods. The characters could not exist without each other, and they were products of their lifestyle which gave birth to their environment. Life truly had no value in The Wire. There were no poignant remarks about the nature of their existence outside the drug world. Audiences got to witness that at ground level, drugs are used by people voluntarily in most cases. Money wasn’t the only currency, as respect and fear were almost prized higher than it. The Wire essentially was about survival of the fittest and drugs being the driving force for many different people to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Pablo Escobar
By Colombian National Police [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The real war of Narcos

If you pick up your local or even regional newspaper, you’ll see anything but what is going on right now at the American-Mexican border. Drug cartels are a very real and domineering force across the United States borders with South America. They are in fact paramilitary organizations that are willing to do absolutely anything for the almighty dollar. Narcos is a show on Netflix that follows the first real drug lord that started the modern war on drugs. It follows the journey of Pablo Escobar, perhaps the most prolific Cartel leader that has ever lived. He has been immortalized by popular culture for what he did and achieved for himself. His fortune from smuggling cocaine across the world reached to $30 billion in the early 1990s. In today’s money that would be scaling up beyond $55 billion. He was called ‘the king of cocaine’ for a reason. America in the 1980s was experiencing a wave of cocaine dealing and widespread abuse. It’s common knowledge that everyone from corporate CEOs to the local homeless person, could buy and use cocaine almost freely.

However, wherever there are colossal amounts of money to be made through illegal means, death lurks near. Pablo and his wife were always on the run from the authorities. Details of Pablo Escobar wife’s lifestyle are bittersweet; as you’d expect. Pablo was not faithful, and she accepted it early on in their relationship. As if multiple affairs wasn’t enough, life on the run was physically and mentally draining. Moving to Argentina and living under false identities, suddenly they were once again on the run as police moved to arrest the couple. Narcos follows the life of Pablo, dramatizing his rise and how he lived day from day in the late 1980s.

By Irmin Wehmeier (iwpfw) ( [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Absurdity of Saul

A spin-off prequel of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is a crime drama with a love for dark humor. It follows the life of small-time attorney Saul Goodman who specializes in fixing obscure and untoward situations. On the original show, he was defending the biochemist turned meth giant Walter White. He’s teamed up with a private eye and takes on cases that no other attorney valuing their career would touch. Audiences have taken an extreme liking to this spin-off, and it’s perhaps because of one underlying thing. People have gotten used to gritty drug-related dramas. The moral conundrums and violence were once frightening and heart-wrenching. From being planted into an alien lifestyle and world, then rooting for the guy living on the opposite side of the law to now becoming almost normalized. This is why the dark humor in Better Call Saul works. Not only are fans of the original show used to the hairy situations the main characters faced, but now find the absurdity of them amusing.

Drug dramas have gone through a shift in how they’re presented and consumed. The gripping manner of the cold and harsh streets only get you so far. The ground level war has now been usurped by the thirst for knowledge in how it gets to that stage. Hence why drug lords and cartels are the new relevance to audiences. Not only is the violence heightened even more as the money surmounts into the billions, but audiences understand the actual war on drugs itself. And in this whirlpool, dark humor will and has inevitably shot out. Wherever there are harrowing circumstances, laughing at tense predicaments is the standard defensive reaction.