Review: Queen of the South 1×1-1×2 (US: USA Network)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Not yet acquired

As I’m sure I’ve remarked before, but encroaching senility means I can’t remember exactly when, it’s getting harder and harder to tell who’s copying what and when. USA’s Queen of the South, for example, looks like a clear-cut knock-off of Netflix’s Narcos, last year’s marvellous biopic of Pablo Escabar, albeit with a bit of gender-reversal. As with Narcos, it stars a Brazilian (Alice Braga) as a low-level Latin drug dealer and then follows her ascent to become a drugs lord. Or should that be drugs lady?

Except it’s actually a remake of Telemundo US’s La Reina del Sur, one of the network’s most expensive telenovelas, which was in turn based on the novel of the same name by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Strange, huh? All the same, all of those facts are useless since you just want to know if the show is good or not, don’t you? Well, if you’ve seen Narcos, I’d recommend giving this a miss, since it’s nowhere near as good. If you haven’t, just go and watch Narcos instead. But if you don’t think you ever will (because, you know, Netflix needs cash or something), this isn’t bad, but it’s really not that good either.

The show’s basic problem – at least at this point – is that Braga spends most of her time being thrown from sticky situation to sticky situation without much agency of her own. Sure, there’s plenty of action: she runs, she acts as a drugs mule, she and others wave guns around and sometimes even shoot at people, there are car chases and car crashes, and cars blow up around her. But most of the time, she’s running away from something, being knocked out, captured, raped, trussed up, shot at and more. Surprisingly, despite all this devastation, there’s not much excitement, either. 

On top of that, it doesn’t feel very real. Unlike Narcos, where everyone speaks Spanish apart from the Americans, here everyone speaks English… except when they speak Spanish. There doesn’t appear to be any rule as to when they speak Spanish – it seems to be a mood thing that comes across them at the start of conversations, sometimes in the middle, never for more than three sentences. Braga’s boyfriend, who introduces her to all manner of dangerous people, is beyond nice for a drug dealer and beyond personality, too. There’s a husband-and-ex-wife drug dealing partnership, the husband (Joaquim de Almeida) running for governor, the ex-wife (Veronica Falcon) running the US branch of the drug-running operation. And as impressive as Falcon might be, in fact being the show’s true draw, not much of her operation is even slightly plausible, looking like a series of mash-ups from old episodes of Miami Vice

Perhaps the show’s one truly interesting feature, in fact, is it’s slightly wonky non-linear storytelling. We start in the first episode seeing Braga being (seemingly) assassinated at the height of her power, before flashing back to how she got there. Except throughout the episodes, her spiritual guide through misery and peril is her future self, who appears to her as a vision. This isn’t time travel or anything supernatural (at least, not so far). Instead, it’s the intimation that Braga’s future self is already there inside her and she simply needs to listen to herself to survive her perils – and the more she does so, the more she’ll become that true self. However, that’s the show’s only really interesting feature and I wouldn’t recommend you watch it just to see these two to three cameos per episode. 

I’ve tried two episodes. I think that’s probably enough now.