How ZeroZeroZero turned the drug cartel thriller on its head

Like lots of people in lockdown, I spend most of my time apologising to friends and family that I have nothing to say for myself. What did I do today? Pretty much what I’ve done for the last 365 days, while wearing a Matalan jogging bottoms and sweatshirt combo. Sometimes I mix up the colours to keep it interesting.

So the main form of conversational currency is necessarily TV. What did you watch? What’s it like? How long is it? How will it sit alongside what I’m already watching? (I tend to like watching something brooding and intense, followed by something Christopher Biggins would turn down as ‘too frivolous’).

A friend recommended ZeroZeroZero on Sky. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a crime drama following three different storylines in Italy, Mexico, and the US. Oh, and it’s brutal. Make that very brutal. It’s not the kind of thing I’d usually go for, but having spent a whole evening bizarrely pinging back and forth between reality show Below Deck (so incredibly watchable) and Rentaghost (baffling, barking children’s show from decades ago) I gave it a try.

I’ve seen drug dramas before (Ozark, Traffik etc.) so I thought I knew what to expect. But this series is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Firstly, I wasn’t expecting ZeroZeroZero to be so filmic. Every shot is beautiful and some are breathtaking. I had the odd sensation of being gripped while also thinking ‘ooh, how lovely’.

The three worlds of the story are each brutal and unpredictable in their own ways – and when the worlds start to collide, the action barely lets up. But each of the worlds is incredibly strange and unfamiliar in its own way – the Mafia don hiding out in a prison-like cell under a hill in Italy, the drug fixer and shipper dealing with the onset of the terrifying Huntingdon’s Disease, and the chilly, detatched way proto-drug baron Manuel Contreras seizes and keeps control in Monterrey, Mexico.

No other drama series in recent memory has seen me feverishly Googling its locations some of the details of the story threads – in particular shipping containers and their journey across the world. Then coincidentally, a massive ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, fusing reality and fiction in my lockdown-addled mind, and making the show seem even stranger.

What Are Shipping Container Dimensions?
Shipping containers, yesterday

And it is strange. Very strange. From the icy demeanour of Angela Riseborough’s character Emma in the face of extreme stress and brutality to the long sequence in which her brother Chris is abandoned on the wrecked cargo ship, there’s a sense of the otherworldly that permeates every scene.

And the dialogue is minimal throughout. I’d love to get hold of the scripts to see how it’s written. The performances are so powerful I wonder if in some scenes more was left to the director and actors than the script.

But for a limited series that shows you a world you’ll have never before encountered (if you’re lucky), ZeroZeroZero is a must-see. Now I need to watch another couple of episodes of Below Deck to get on board with a more positive, frivolous boat journey.


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