Netflix’s Italian drama “Baby” occupies a bizarre space in the TV quality spectrum. It took me only a couple sittings to watch its six episodes, each clocking in at around 45 minutes. The plot moved fairly quickly and had enough tension and intrigue to keep me hooked, but by the end of it, I couldn’t help but feel rather underwhelmed. Normally, if I deem a show binge-worthy and waste away potential hours of productivity, I expect to arrive at the end with something along the lines of my jaw on the floor, hair messed up in an existential crisis, as if I was somehow taken around a lap of Monza by Michael Schumacher himself.
“Baby” is set in the swanky, upscale neighborhood Parioli, in Rome, in a sea of the most pretentious, despicable people you’ll ever meet. Chiara (Benedetta Porcaroli, “Tutto può succedere”) and her best friend Camilla (Chabeli Sastre Gonzalez, newcomer) are two of the more likable kids in their snooty private school. They become entangled with more “unsavory” characters, including Ludovica (Alice Pagani, “Loro 2”) and Damiano (Riccardo Mandolini, “Al Posto Tuo”). Ludovica is an infamous outcast, known for filming a sex tape with an ex, while Damiano, a new student who is rougher around the edges than most, is the illegitimate son of an ambassador.
Rather quickly, Chiara becomes a more rebellious version of herself, spending late nights partying and getting involved with sketchy characters such as Saverio (Paolo Calabresi) and Fiore (Giuseppe Maggio), two nightclub owners. The two men entice Chiara and Camilla into becoming escorts. They are extremely manipulative, using the girls’ feelings of alienation to their own nefarious purposes without any threats of violence at the onset.
Porcaroli and Pagani are the two standout performers, easily transitioning from vulnerable to confident and self-assured. While there are several side characters involved in the story as well, none of their storylines are quite as developed and insightful. “Baby” shows these two falling into the depths of the Italian underworld out of a mixture of desiring to rebel against upper class ennui, and the negligence of their parents. Chiara’s parents are all but separated, only staying together for their daughter, while Camilla’s single mother squanders what money she has with her new boyfriend, neglecting Camilla’s school fees.
However, “Baby” never quite gives the depth its own story deserves. The real-life teen prostitution scandal that it is based on is truly disturbing and creepy, but “Baby” does not make it seem so. It rarely gives any window into the psychological torment Chiara and Camilla go through, from their dealings with the predatory Saverio and Fiore to their disintegrating relationships with their own friends and families. The show never settles on tone, flipping often between “Skins”-esque teen drama and adult thriller. When it’s the former, it is never as insightful as “Skins” was. Damiano, another character who feels out-of-place due to his lower-class background and the absence of his dead mother, is sympathetic, but is mostly used as Chiara and Camilla’s love interest. Unlike many shows, it does not fall into the trap of gratuitous voyeurism, but it equally avoids truly exploring the vain, status-obsessed world they live in.
“Baby” has a lot of potential to further explore the psychology of these teenagers in Parioli, but it needs to flesh out its surrounding cast to allow even Chiara and Camilla’s story to develop. At the moment, it takes a superficial view of a troubling real-life story and makes little out of it.