Before empire-building drug lords like Pablo Escobar and El Chapo, there was Griselda Blanco – known as everything from “The Black Widow” to simply “The Godmother.” This infamous female cocaine kingpin built a ruthless drug empire in 1970s and 80s Miami, smuggling over a ton per month at her peak while racking up a massive body count. As dangerous as she was charming, Blanco seemed destined for the big screen.
Now, Sofia Vergara steps into Blanco’s shoes – and prosthetic makeup – for Netflix’s new limited series Griselda. Far cry from her Modern Family role, Vergara disappears into the larger-than-life cartel boss. Though more glamorized than the cold-blooded real Blanco likely was, Vergara nails the calculated charisma and entrepreneurial hunger that allowed one ambitious immigrant to seize power in a male-dominated industry through sheer force of will.
Backed by the Narcos creative team, Griselda traces Blanco’s meteoric Miami rise along with the inevitable brutality and paranoia accompanying unlimited wealth and enemies at every turn. This entertaining if fictionalized version smooths the rougher historical edges but retains the vibe of an era where cocaine flowed freely and violence lurked under neon lights. So does Griselda glorify this criminal icon or offer deserved condemnation? Is it a feminist antihero’s journey or cautionary Scarface tragedy? As with Blanco’s life itself, the truth likely lies somewhere in a gray area between admirable moxie and reprehensible means.
Vergara Rules as The Godmother
Any show lives or dies by its lead, so casting Griselda Blanco presented Netflix with a major challenge. Few possess both the straight drama chops to convey Blanco’s cruelty and the charm to make her seductive rise compelling. Enter Sofia Vergara.
While no dead ringer physically after hours in the makeup chair, Vergara inhabits Blanco in more important ways. Gone is the cartoonish Modern Family actress, replaced by a captivating force of nature whom men want to obey and women want to be. She moves with predatory grace, equally lethal whether stroking your cheek or slicing your throat if crossed. Vergara captures Blanco’s intellect too – she persuades more than commands (at first), strategically maneuvering rivals into her web.
Yet Vergara brings empathy too, her eyes flashing maternal care when coddling wayward sons. We understand, if not condone, her desire to provide as addiction corrodes her humanity. This layered turn should end any doubts about Vergara’s versatility. She dominates scenes with understated power rather than volume.
Martín Rodríguez nearly steals the show as Rivi, Blanco’s wildly unstable top hitman and enforcer. He leaves a trail of bodies while snorting epic mountains of coke, fueled by a terrifying nervous energy. Their dynamic epitomizes Griselda’s thesis: mutual self-interest binds kingpin and killer, yet she must perpetually watch her back, even among lovers.
Detective June Hawkins represents Griselda’s counterpoint – anotherenterprising woman struggling in a man’s game. Their cat-and-mouse game provides dramatic fuel. Beyond Vergara’s central spotlight, Griselda assembles a uniformly strong Latino ensemble. Whether allies or enemies, none feel one-note. Together they form the chaotic community into which Blanco claws for dominance.
How True is Griselda’s Savage Saga?
Griselda follows the familiar “inspired by true events” playbook. While based on Griselda Blanco’s life, clearly dramatic license shapes her tale into a Scarface-esque rise and fall arc. Do they capture the essence of Miami’s very real Cocaine Cowboy era? Absolutely. But there’s also heavy glamorization at play to fuel an at-times overstated morality fable.
We meet Blanco mid-escape, a defiant single mother fleeing Medellín cartels to start anew in Florida. The show implies she built her empire from nothing through sheer hustle and brains. In truth, Blanco arrived with an established NYC heroin network, having left a trail of bodies back home too. Her cunning and ambition can’t be denied, but neither should the foundation she’d already built.
That said, Griselda effectively smoothes Blanco’s trajectory into familiar antihero lines while retaining enough edge for a solid crime saga. The players ring true enough even if timelines condense. We travel through her greatest hits: ingeniously tapping the untapped white market, warring with Cuban and Colombian rivals, even getting arrested but beating the case. Blanco’s larger-than-life persona resonates as she sits triumphantly on a golden throne.
Just don’t expect documentary realism. The series downplays her most monstrous acts. The real Blanco tallied over 250 murders by some estimates – she reportedly killed wantonly, even wiping out innocents over petty slights. Griselda shows some of this collateral damage, but primarily depicts more “justified” hits on fellow criminals rather than civilians. Make no mistake, she’s still plenty ruthless here, but the full psychopathic extremity lives mostly in chilling tales beyond the script.
Griselda Captures the Decadence and Danger of Cocaine Miami
While historical accuracy proves slippery, Griselda delivers visually on transporting us inside Blanco’s hedonistic yet deadly realm. Backed by Narcos pedigree, director Andres Baiz soaks South Beach in neon and grit. The series bleeds style, from the soundtrack’s funky synths to the era-perfect wardrobe. Griselda herself dons increasingly glamorous power suits and furs befitting an empire builder, intimidating the male old guard. We feel the rush of white gold bringing Grove Street meccas to life each night, money and modesty abandoned to dance floor abandon.
These club scenes dazzle despite relatively fixed sets and limited extras. Baiz masterfully frames the sensory overload, while the camera swirls as freely as white lines on glass tables. When violence later erupts, he captures the sudden horror amidst party fever. Throughout Griselda’s world, danger always lurks behind VIP rope lines guarded by smiling giants.
True to archetype, supporting players mostly worship Griselda or peel away as her paranoia expands. She dominates frames, though rivals like Rivi and ruthless detectives breathe life into cat-and-mouse games. Standout sequences include Blanco’s defiant courtroom confrontation and a deliriously melodramatic family dinner as hubris gives way to Greek tragedy. The show falters somewhat when abandoning gritty reality for these ostentatious indulgences, but as substance-fueled metaphor they reinforce themes of metastasizing megalomania and betrayal.
By finale, Griselda has lost her soul yet completed her legend, leading us through a clouds of white powder to scarred awakening.
The Godmother as Feminist Icon or Cautionary Tale?
On the surface, Griselda Blanco’s saga seems a ready-made female empowerment story – an immigrant underdog overcoming poverty and machismo to reach America’s top 1%, even if by illegal means. She openly taunts the corrupt men of her world, building an enterprise through sheer force of personality that allows luxury and security for her family, whom she clearly adores. “I’m not a drug dealer,” Griselda declares. “I’m a revolutionary.”
Yet things grow complicated quickly in her Shakespearean rise and fall. She exploits systemic gender barriers, but becomes equally ruthless towards male and female threats, however justified taking revenge may feel in the moment. Griselda repeats her desire for a positive legacy – “Changing how they see us” – but her cartel empire does not uplift the Latino community so much as reinforce the criminality stereotype. Her beloved children suffer trauma witnessing (and even participating in) violence until all human connections corrode.
Griselda provokes these moral quandaries deliberately, contrasting its ambitious antiheroine with Detective June Hawkins’ lawful but equally perilous path raising a son alone. Their cat-and-mouse game encourages us to see two strong women navigating male-centric worlds through opposing roads. But can the end truly justify the means? Few would deny Griselda displays tremendously savvy business instincts – she outsmarts arrogant kingpins via product innovation and marketing genius, not just thuggery. Yet as June questions whether criminals like Griselda “[give her community] a bad reputation or merely expose it,” the show refuses to condemn or condone absolutely. Just as Griselda explains rather than excuses her behavior, we remain troubled voyeurs rather than outright cheerleaders.
These ambiguities make Griselda compelling drama given saturated Narcos territory. But it also at times glorifies the intoxicating power and lifestyle achieved by moving weight over morality. The tragedy lies not so much in Griselda losing her soul – she proves capable of heart-wrenching cruelty from the start – so much as failing to build the long-lasting legacy she desires on such a bloody foundation. Hubris gives way to paranoia. For all her strengths navigating treacherous waters, she drowns in addiction and isolation. Griselda leaves it to us to judge whether she betrayed her admirable qualities or merely her community. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
For All Its Swagger, Griselda Stumbles Too
Griselda clearly aims its sights high, attempting to craft both gripping human drama and social commentary around an iconic antiheroine. An undeniably strong production mostly delivers the thrills, but not without some tonal stumbling that muddles more complex messages. Ultimately the show can’t fully resolve its own ambiguities around glorifying or condemning its lead.
After a rock solid start rocketing Blanco to the top, pacing issues creep in later as the writers strain to fill six episodes. The first half finds Griselda barely escaping endless perils, lending her an underdog’s urgency. Yet after decisively conquering rivals, the plot loses steam aside from obligatory tragedy. Dramatic necessity gives way to bloated runtime.
Tonally, early tragedy and vulnerability shift awkwardly towards hammy melodrama better suited for telenovelas. Griselda herself turns from shrewd tactician to a Tony Montana-esque hot mess awash in cocaine and narcissism. Vergara’s compelling performance keeps us invested, but subtlety vanishes. Solemn moments also undercut tension with oddly timed humor. These clashing notes muddle whether we should view her rise with awe or as ill-advised farce.
More concerning, for all its consciousness around Latino representation, Griselda’s world remains inhabited solely by flashy kingpins rather than everyday community members beyond cops and kids. The show claims to humanize its subject but rarely depicts the “regular people” damaged by trafficking’s wake. We hear Griselda pronounces herself a revolutionary rather than common thug, but see little on-screen improvement for the marginalized. Some critics thus argue the series still trades in certain stereotypes, just with a feminist veneer.
These stumbles don’t undermine a largely solid production, but they do curb its higher ambitions. Griselda works wonderfully as splashy, escapist fun through a fresh lens, less so as nuanced exploration of morality’s slippery slopes. Still, we’ll raise a glass with Blanco anytime as long as you know the costs. Viva la reina!
Griselda Review – Griselda Delivers Glamorized Escapism and Breakout Performances
For all its loose history and occasional stumbles, Griselda succeeds above all as bingeable entertainment revealing new dimensions of Sofia Vergara. Fans of crime sagas like Narcos will find familiar pleasures – violence and vice framed with slick style. Those seeking a layered historical portrait or social analysis may come away less impressed given shortcuts taken. But with expectations set, Griselda offers a fun twist on the rise-and-fall playbook.
Beyond reliable thrills, the limited series presents a star vehicle for Vergara to shred her sitcom reputation. She captures Griselda Blanco in all her ruthless, charismatic complexity, selling both entrepreneurial spirit and deteriorating humanity with equal conviction. A uniformly strong Latino ensemble supports Vergara’s standout turn even if characters verge on archetypes. With transporting visuals and propulsive early episodes, Griselda works best enjoyed quickly before heavier themes collapse under melodramatic weight.
Viewers less enamored with antihero stories won’t suddenly find a gateway drug here. And the show’s inability to fully resolve questions around justifying illegal means for feminist ends hinders aspirations for deeper commentary. But with expectations set for a pulpy, lavish spin on history rather than strict truth, Griselda entertains. For a glimpse inside Miami’s dark glamour minus context or conscience, bask in the neon fairy tale before the cocaine crash. Wherever the real Blanco may be, let’s hope Vergara’s triumphant performance does her complicated legacy justice.
Griselda proves at once problematic yet undeniably captivating as morality tale and character study. We may not admire its construction as high art or agree with the show justifying rule-breaking as social progress. But amidst flaws and exaggerations, Sofia Vergara compels our attention through raw talent and magnetism in a breakout dramatic turn. For escapist thrills and cultural insight into the Latina experience, Griselda makes for a provocative, if not fully satisfying, binge.
- Compelling performance by Sofia Vergara
- Immersive directing and visuals
- Captures the gritty 1980s Miami aesthetic
- Propulsive pacing in early episodes
- Spotlights a ruthless female antihero
- Fascinating look at a notorious real figure
- Takes liberties with historical facts
- Supporting characters could be more developed
- Melodramatic tone undercuts authenticity
- Plot loses momentum in later episodes
- May reinforce some Latino stereotypes