Club de Cuervos: Not There YetBy: José Manuel Simián
So how did Netflix do with Club de Cuervos, its first original series in Spanish?
To use an analogy of the sport that lies at its center, Netflix won the soccer match by one goal—one that was far from a golazo.
Club de Cuervos revolves around a professional soccer club in a fictional small Mexican city—the kind of team that represents the city's inhabitants' higher aspirations; the kind of team that sublimates their miserable existences with occasional victories and eternal promises of glory (they have never won a tournament).
In spite of the flashiness of the first sequences —right away, we're in a party with drugs, naked prostitutes and on-screen references to social media— Club de Cuervos starts closer to a traditional soap opera than the modern, fast-paced dramedy it aims to be: there is Salvador, a patriarch (of the team, of the wealthiest family of Nueva Toledo, and of the city itself) dying unexpectedly, leaving the fate of the team in the hands of his two children; there are manipulative widows and a bimbo mistress; there is fight over the patriarch's inheritance and an unexpected pregnancy. All of this before the 20-minute mark. And as you can imagine, the presidency of the club goes to the less capable of Salvador's children, the spoiled brat "Chava" (Luis Gerardo Méndez), much to the chagrin of the hard-working and reliable daughter Isabel (Mariana Treviño).
A comedy of errors ensues, mostly propelled by Chava's vapidity and ineptitude as the team's president. Not only is Chava far from being smart, but he doesn't know the first thing about soccer: he thinks he can turn Cuervos into the "the Real Madrid of Latin America" overnight by hiring a flashy superstar and changing the t-shirts. And as the 13 episodes of this first season move forward, Club de Cuervos moves into respectable dramedy territory.
On the comedy side of that formula, the strengths and weaknesses of Club de Cuervos emanate from Chava. Méndez succeeds in playing a clueless trust fund baby, but the writing and directing never let that cluelessness get on the path of the cringe-inducing heights of, say, memorable useless bosses like Michael Scott or David Brent in either version of The Office. Instead, much energy and time is spent on side skits that are crass and obvious at best (like a subplot that involves a transexual prostitute that the team's coach believes to be the mother of one of the players), while some of the funniest and smartest comic lines go to waste.
The drama side of the formula takes a back seat until the last episodes of the season. The tension revolves mostly around Isabel's desire to recover what should have been rightfully hers —the presidency of the club— and her conflict with motherhood, and to a lesser degree, around the fate of the team. But when the drama finally kicks in (too close to the 90th minute of this match, if you ask me), Club de Cuervos finally finds its balance. Along the way, many small pleasures are to be found in Club de Cuervos, even while many of them —like the exposition of small-town Mexican life or throwaway jokes— seem to be afterthoughts.
All things considered, like casual fans of a team that still hasn't won anything but left it all on the field, we'll probably be back next season.
LOGISTICS: Club de Cuervos, now streaming on Netflix