NBC offers up a new drama just in time for February sweeps, the six-part miniseries, “Kingpin.” Executive Producer David Mills (“Homicide Life on the Street,” “ER”) has the proper pedigree to produce a gritty drama and his latest effort is a success. “Kingpin” echoes the brilliance of “The Sopranos” and the feature film “Traffic.” The show features a predominately Hispanic cast which is a positive step, considering the lack of diversity in network television.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of NBC
The doll IS cocaine.

“Kingpin” focuses on the lives of a family in the Mexican drug cartel known as “La Corporacion.” Miguel Cadena, wonderfully played by Yancey Arias (“The Time Machine”), takes center stage as the No. 2 man in the family?s crime syndicate. Miguel, a graduate Stanford University and married to a “gringo,” but is vying to take control of the family business from his uncle, Jorge (guest star Pepe Serna) and his crazy and irrational cousin, Ernesto (guest star Jacob Vargas). Conflict arises through Ernesto?s poor decisions and tension grows between him and Miguel. Miguel maintains the role of an anti-hero torn between his relationship with his family and the sadness of realizing his obvious evils.

The opening segments begin at a brisk pace with little exposition. However, the characters begin to flesh out as the show kicks into gear. The story shifts from the different players frequently, jumping from the main story of Miguel to subplots featuring a female Drug Enforcement Agency officer, Delia Flores (Angela Alvarado Rosa), trying to stop the drug trade and Miguel?s brother, Chato (Bobby Cannavale), in his interactions with Jorge on the yacht.

The subject matter is definitely not standard network material, and would probably be better suited for HBO. The show features large amounts of violence and a significant focus on drugs.

The desert plays a key role in creating the feel of the show with brown hues reminiscent of “Traffic.” Overall, the drug dealing takes a back seat to the internal family struggles and paranoia. Familiar relationships feature prominently, especially between Miguel and his young son, Joey, and wife, Marlene (Sheryl Lee). The importance of the central family makes comparisons between “Kingpin” and “The Sopranos” even more evident.

Well supported by NBC, “Kingpin” occupies two timeslots during the crucial February sweeps period and so far it appears to deserve this honor. “Kingpin” is like nothing else on network television, an obvious risk by NBC but proving to be a successful venture. Hopefully, the next installments will provide the same entertainment and excitement as the pilot.

4 stars

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