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TV Series Review

I don't know much about the drug trade. But from what I can see from movies and television, it looks like a pretty terrible business. You're always on call. Every day is filled with seriously stressful business transactions. And if you mess up … well, let's just say your bosses aren't likely to bother much with employee development programs.

It's hard to see why anyone would get into the business. Unless, of course, their glamorous future selves materialize in front of them and tell them that their destinies are wrapped up in white powder.

That's the vibe that Teresa Mendoza is getting from her future self, anyway—dressed in dazzling white and rocking gold high heels. USA's Queen of the South is her story. It is, essentially, told in one massive extended flashback—long after she's risen to the pinnacle of the drug trade and just before someone shoots her in the head.

This is Your TV Show. This is Your TV Show on Drugs.

Before Teresa became the Western Hemisphere's most powerful drug lord—er, lady—she was just a girl who got mixed up with the wrong crowd. Her boyfriend was a low-level dealer for the notorious kingpin Don Epifanio Vargas and his powerful wife, Camila. But even though Vargas terminated Teresa's relationship with her boyfriend (or, rather, terminated the boyfriend), Teresa's still enmeshed in Vargas' dangerous world, just trying to stay alive an episode at a time.

But it's difficult to stay on the straight and narrow when your associates are so crooked. When glamorous Camila sometimes nudges, sometimes shoves you into the moral shadows. When your own future doppelganger is giving you bad advice every step of the way.

Queen of the South is based on the phenomenally successful telenovela La Reina del Sur, which aired on Telemundo in 2011. But don't just dismiss the show as a soapy, schlocky, guilty pleasure. Sure, while there's plenty of soap and an awful lot of guilt here, Queen of the South is also evidence of USA's new foray into gritty, compelling drama … and problematic content.

Just Say No

It's early yet in Teresa's story. And, drug-dealing aside, she seems nice enough. While she's certainly not a pure-of-heart heroine, she's no black-souled villain, either. Teresa has little interest in the darker aspects of the drug trade and no desire to see innocents die to keep the cocaine moving from Mexico to Dallas. And she sometimes risks her own life to do the right thing.

But not all the time. She lies frequently and kills when she needs to, and the world around her is dark, dark, dark. Violence is very much a part of this seamy business, with torture and murder making frequent appearances. Sex isn't off limits, either. Indeed, the two are sometimes inescapably entwined: Teresa herself was brutally raped in the show's first episode. Language can be scalding. And as for drug use … well, viewers will find that as impossible to escape as Teresa does.

USA seems determined to shed its rep as an outpost for light, breezy crime procedurals and dramedies—never mind that those kinds of shows powered the network to the top of the cable ratings. Shows such as Monk and Psych long ago left the building, replaced by gripping, gritty, often grotesque dramas designed to make critics smile and discerning viewers cringe.

Queen of the South clearly wants to join the legion of prestige dramas out there, checking off all the boxes, painting by all the numbers and topping the whole works off with a bit of gratuitous, over-the-top schlock. But when I watch the show, I find myself asking,Just how many bleak shows fronted by flawed antiheroes does television really need?


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Episode Reviews

Queen of the South: Aug. 18, 2016 "Coge Todo Lo Que Puede Llevar"



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Alice Braga as Teresa Mendoza; Veronica Falcón as Camila Vargas; Peter Gadiot as James; Justina Machado as Brenda Parra; Hemky Madera as Pote; Brent Smiga as Eric Watson; Hugo Perez as Father Ramon; Joaquim de Almeida as Don Epifanio Vargas






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Paul Asay

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