Over the last few years, there has been a strange phenomenon brewing among the world’s TV viewers: An obsession with the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, a man who was simultaneously a brutal killer and one of the most wanted men in the world, but also one who was beloved by many. Series such as Netflix’s hit “Narcos” have been the main sources of this new rise in interest, and Discovery Channel continues the trend with the documentary series “Finding Escobar’s Millions.”
The show centers around two ex-CIA agents: Doug Laux and Ben Smith, the former having previously gained recognition after writing a memoir about his time in, and the discomfort he experienced while in the agency. Right off the bat, it is apparent that these two are legitimate and qualified selections, and the show will not be too similar to some of the drivel that channels such as Discovery and The History Channel have recently produced. The pair are investigating the existence/location of millions of dollars in cash hidden by Escobar throughout his lifetime spread all around Colombia. They enlist the aide of figures who were in Escobar’s inner circle, scientists who provide high-tech equipment and journalists from Colombia’s most prolific newspapers.
As one could expect, such an investigation requires the two leads forced to interact with some unsavory and dangerous figures in some of the poorest neighborhoods of cities such as Bogotá and Medellín. The show does address this and lets the viewer understand the stakes at each stage of the mission. Unlike in many “reality shows” produced by Discovery, the dangers in this series are real and not exaggerated for dramatic effect. Ironically, despite this, the show doesn’t do a great job transmitting that fear into the audience. While a Sicario-esque atmosphere would have felt out-of-place, the cheesy and generic music and sound effects used during some of the most tense sequences simply felt cheapening. In general, many of the shots feel extremely repetitive and similar to shots viewers would have seen a hundred times.
The show does however provide suitable context and background information regarding Escobar and his life, and goes into further detail, especially in certain sequences in important Colombian newspapers. It does feel that the leads are doing a legitimate investigation. Another benefit of having such qualified leads is that they provide valuable insight into their thinking during certain situations. Some of the best parts of the show are when one of the two provides a brief, but realistic, assessment of the situation he is in, taking into account the body language of the person he is speaking to, the movement of the people and things around him and how the environment and mood changes around him, highlighting the perceptiveness and training the individuals draw upon constantly during such a mission. For example, during a conversation with an Escobar associate in a precarious neighborhood, Laux walks the viewer through how he was gauging the mood and tone of the associate, and how he applied certain techniques to extract as much information as possible, while trying to endear himself to an influential, yet dangerous, man.
What remains relatively unexplained, however, is the pair’s motivation for undertaking such a mission in the first place. It is briefly touched upon, but all we learn is that money is not their motive, since they have to give away 95 percent of any money they find to the Colombian government anyway. It would be nice to know why two former CIA agents have such a desire to go on a dangerous mission, and why they care in the first place? Perhaps their motive is simply the thrill of the mission.
“Finding Escobar’s Millions” is a gripping account of a very real story about a man that has captured the imagination of TV viewers around the world. Unfortunately, the production and cinematography of the show detract from, rather than enhance, the engaging topic and storyline. Nonetheless, it is a series that should keep viewers coming back for more to explore how Laux and Smith’s investigation continues and concludes.