Spoiler Alert – This review discusses plot points in the show Griselda.
On the back of 2023, one of the best years for Latina representation in entertainment, this year has kicked off with further strides made in the industry. Already, America Ferrera has received an Oscar nomination, making a monumental step forward for Latinas in film. Television has not lagged behind, and the first flagship Netflix series of the year, Griselda, is leading the charge for Latinas in the media. Starring Colombian actress Sofia Vergara, the show follows the life of Griselda Blanco, a female narco who ran the cocaine business in Miami from the late 70s into the early 2000s. As a fan of both Veragra and the Netflix series Narcos, I wanted to see if Griselda was going to stand up to the hype surrounding the show.
Sofia Vergara Transforms into Griselda
As an actress, Vergara is best known for her role as Gloria Pritchett-Delgado on Modern Family, a role she held for 11 years. With such a strong base in comedic acting, it is a bold choice to pivot so strongly to take on a role like Griselda Blanco. In the show, she flexes her muscles as an actress and demonstrates her ability to transform as a performer. Griselda Blanco is a dark role, and in her life, she was responsible for the death of many people, all the while holding together a precarious grip on a competitive and violent cocaine market across Miami and Southern Florida.
Well and truly, Vergara was up for the task when she signed on for Griselda. In the show, she portrays a woman who has habitually been knocked down and overlooked because of her gender. She captures the feeling of frustration and determination that spurs her character to keep going as she navigates her rise to the top. In the show, Vergara captures a sense of underlying paranoia and fragile power that define her character and her arc through the six-episode limited series. In Griselda, we see a Vergara who is diving into a much darker side of herself than in previous roles. More importantly, we see the bright and amiable actress disappear in place of a woman who is ruthless and, especially towards the end of the series, is beginning to really crumble under the weight of her own continued bad decisions.
A lot has been said about the use of prosthetics in the show to alter Vergara’s appearance. Personally, I don’t feel like they take away from the show like some other viewers have claimed, but I also feel like they weren’t necessary. Vergara explained in press for the show that she wanted to use prosthetics to separate her image from the character and help herself mentally transform into Griselda, and to that end, it would appear that they worked. She commands the role and explores the emotional highs and lows of being a woman in a man’s world excellently, ultimately making her acting the real sell for Griselda as a show.
A Showcase of Latin Talent
The rest of the cast are also excellent in their roles, delivering their characters with emotional depth and complexity. That being said, this is the Sofia Vergara show, and the rest of the cast are all led by Vergara as she helms the ship. Special attention is warranted to talk about Vanessa Ferlito’s portrayal of Carmen Gutiérrez, one of Griselda’s longest friends and confidants in Miami. As Gutiérrez, Ferlito shows a woman who is caught constantly between trusting an old friend and listening to the voice in your head that screams ‘get out while you still can’. As a character, she often appears as a voice of reason and a safety net for Griselda, making it an even bigger blow when it is Gutiérrez herself who plays a hand in Griselda’s downfall. The performances from Alberto Guerra as Darío Sepúlveda, Griselda’s third husband and Martin Rodriguez as Jorge “Rivi” Ayala-Rivera, Griselda’s lead Sicario, are also of note. Both characters are instrumental to the story, and their respective actors carry their roles with confidence and authority.
Additionally, the show sees Karol G make her acting debut as Carla, a prostitute from Medellín who is recruited to smuggle for Griselda. We only see small scenes from Karol as Carla, but she carries herself well and is steady enough as an actress to keep up with the experienced actors around her. She has real promise as an actress and hopefully will stretch herself in more roles in the coming years.
Why isn’t there More Griselda?
Griselda, overall, is a very enjoyable and captivating show, but it does have one main issue that I could take away from my experience as a viewer. The show is too short. At six episodes, each with a runtime of around 50 minutes, the show feels rushed in places. Particularly in the last two episodes, it feels like the fall of Griselda Blanco happens in the span of mere days, but in reality, it took much longer. The short runtime of the series does mean that no episodes feel slow and that there is non-stop action throughout the entire show, but it does mean we are robbed of some character development that would have greatly bolstered the viewing experience.
This is most starkly the case when looking at the character of June Hawkins (portrayed by Juliana Aidén Martinez), a detective for Miami PD who is set up as the antithesis of Griselda. Martinez plays her character well and gives us as much of a sense of her character as possible with the minimal background development she gets. We only get one or two short scenes of June outside of her working life, so we are left to be told instead of shown most of her relationship with her ex-husband and distant son. Her arc is quite similar to Griselda’s in many ways. Both women exist in spaces that men dominate, and we see both characters overcome misogynistic abuse from their peers. June rises to lead the team tasked with stopping Griselda, while Griselda herself eliminates the men in the Miami coke scene to become the city’s definitive drug baron.
June’s character is single-mindedly focused on first proving that Griselda is a real threat in Miami and then, when she gets her colleagues on her side, is focused on taking her down. We see her explain that she is so determined because of the bad things Grisdela has done to keep her position of power, but I feel like we needed more time to explore her motivations and context to make us really root for her. While we see that she is sidelined by her colleagues, who play sexist pranks on her and dismiss her ideas, this doesn’t go deep enough for me to establish why she is all in on taking Griselda down. I feel like the show had greater potential to differentiate itself from its Narcos origins by leaning into the concept of two women fighting it out to end up on top from opposite sides of the law. Maybe I’m still yearning for more Killing Eve-eque content after that show crashed and burned in its final two minutes, but there was greater potential for June Hawkins as a character that was left untapped.
Overarchingly, Griselda fell slightly short of the promise made that it was going to be something deeper than the previous series about Narcos and the blood-stained drug trade that plagued the Americas across the latter half of the 20th century. I don’t think that is ultimately a bad thing, and the show delivered a new angle on the Narco story by looking at a notorious and ruthless woman in a man’s game. Vergara truly disappears into her role and delivers the performance of her life in the show. The additional layer of the show, as it explores misogyny and gender disparities in crime, enriches the story and gives Griselda as a character an additional barrier to overcome that makes you root for her. The show would have benefitted from an extra two episodes to really dive deeper into the characters and their motivations, but I do think releasing this as a limited series was a wise choice. Giving the show a definitive run of episodes and concluding the story resolutely as they did means it doesn’t suffer from pacing issues that other shows of a similar ilk have in the past. While some set-up and context are sacrificed, the show is an action-packed and deliciously fun watch. Griselda is a great weekend watch and a thriller through and through.