For the last few weeks NBC has been touting their new show Kingpin as the second coming of the Sopranos, I personally have not been looking forward to this program since I heard about it months back. My immediate thought was that Hollywood was at it again, spewing negative and stereotypical portrayals of Latinos. But after watching the premiere on Sunday night I was much more offended by its lack of creativity and originality than by its unflattering portrayal of Mexicans. To put it bluntly, it?s just a bad show.
Throughout the hour I had the sense that Kingpin?s writers and producers had sent out their army of assistants to research the hell out of the Mexican drug trade, and then they crammed in as many of these scenarios as possible into the episode. They more or less emulated known cases of DEAs who were murdered by Mexican ?kingpins?, and then there was the whole plastic surgery scenario; notorious drug lords have indeed resorted to this to escape prosecution. It was one headline after another. I could only imagine how amusing the pre-production and staff meetings must have been; with the writers? assistants tripping all over themselves hoping that their stories would be picked to be part of the day?s plotline. And the producers salivating over all of this ?ghastly material.?
But by far the most distasteful aspect of the show is how they obviously ripped off classic gangster films and shows, and badly at that. It was one huge clich? fest.
Again it felt as if the producers obligated their cast and crew to watch Traffic, Scarface, The Sopranos, Miami Vice, and The Godfather then they tailored much of the show after these movies. Some of the most blatant overtures are: Yancy Arias? portrayal of the lead character, Miguel Cadena, to Al Pacino?s Michael Corleone, Sheryl Lee?s character, Marlene Cadena, to Michelle Pfeiffer?s portrayal of Tony Montana?s girlfriend Elvira in Scarface, and Jacob Vargas as a Mexican Tony Montana himself. The characters weren?t even one-dimensional but merely cardboard cutouts. In other words, Kingpin?s creative forces offered nothing at all new to this story.
The performances as a whole were mediocre at best; in fact there were some scenes that were downright laughable. Visually Kingpin was very stylistic; in the end, though, it resorted to simply following the big networks? precedent of looking great but being shallow at the same time.
Although Hollywood?s depiction of Latino life is still a great concern, I would not recommend boycotting Kingpin for this aspect alone. Instead we should pull our support in protest of bad television, period.
Alejandro J. Diaz:
Alejandro J. Diaz is a writer and filmmaker whose short film, Pan Dulce y Chocolate, has been screened at several film festivals throughout the country.