Amazon’s adaptation of the Roberto Saviano novel is far too passive and jumbled to capture your interest.
“Look at cocaine and all you see is powder. Look through cocaine and you see the world,” says the tagline to Roberto Saviano’s book, ZeroZeroZero. Now an eight-part mini-series on Amazon Prime, the show promises the same. It purports to be the whole picture of the cocaine trade from the Italian buyers to the Mexican sellers to the American brokers. We follow the effects of a single shipment of cocaine on the lives of people spread across multiple continents. Unfortunately, showrunners Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli, and Mauricio Katz’s attempt is unwieldy and unfocused.
Reviews of the source material reported similar issues, with Saviano’s narrative often lacking, well… narrative structure. You’d hope that the show would seek to correct this by streamlining Saviano’s many interviews into a cohesive picture, but it ends up replicating them instead.
It does simplify the cast of characters, however. We focus mainly on three sets of people: the tumultuous relationship between an Italian mobster grandson (Giuseppe De Domenico) and his grandfather (Adriano Chiaramida) who plan to buy the cocaine shipment; the American brother (Dane DeHaan) and sister (Andrea Riseborough) brokering the deal; and the Mexican soldier turned narco (Harold Torres) doing the selling.
This should give us a stable cast to become invested in, but the show never really figures out how to get us there. Instead, it passively washes over you. Curiosity might pull you from one episode to the next, but it does so without asking you to care why. You only want to know where the plot goes, you don’t actually care much what happens to anyone in it.
Every moment of shock or surprise comes from the fact that ZeroZeroZero loves to obscure the information you need to truly understand a given scene. You’re only surprised because the show hasn’t explained why the actions on screen are happening. In fact, this is sort of the show’s hallmark.
It starts almost every episode in medias res and throws a slow-motion scene somewhere in the middle that then leads to a flashback. The flashback, of course, is jam-packed full of vitally important information needed to understand half of what we’ve already witnessed in the episode. This purposeful obfuscating of the story’s essential information is maddening. It actually renders some episodes borderline meaningless until the flashback occurs. This doesn’t pique your curiosity so much as make you feel like the show has been wasting your time.
Every moment of shock or surprise comes from the fact that ZeroZeroZero loves to obscure the information you need to truly understand a given scene.
Author Salviano can be forgiven if he’s too close to his subject matter to report on it clearly. After all, his hit book turned film on the modern Italian mafia Gomorrah (2008) was so accurate, it forced Salviano into protection. The same can’t be said for the showrunners, whose main goal should have been making Salviano’s work on ZeroZeroZero more cohesive and accessible.
Ultimately, ZeroZeroZerois a jumble of characters and storylines, all peppered with overwrought symbolism and extreme violence that no better illuminates its complex subject matter than an after-school special. Without capturing the drama of the drug trade or really even being able to illuminate it, there’s not much left to tune in for.