The Buzz: Netflix’s ‘The Good Bandit’ A Mediocre Melodrama
NOTE: This review is not of every episode of the series, but of several including the final episode.
The Good Bandit — Un Bandido Honrado in Spanish — is a show packed full of the good, the bad, and the ugly…or not so much ugly as it is overdone. A Colombian telenovela, The Good Bandit features several tropes found in any self-respecting melodrama: A range of flawed characters, infidelity, drama, and lots of sudden plot twists. What The Good Bandit does differently, however, is that the narrative revolves around a middle-aged man as opposed to a woman as is traditionally expected.
Emilio “Curly” Ortega (Diego Vàsquez) is a drug lord who has long evaded prosecution by the law. When he is wrongfully convicted for murder, Ortega spends five years in prison basically under a comfy house arrest. Due to comical circumstances, Ortega dies during his prison stay. In exchange for returning to the living world, Ortega promises his patron saint, Saint Jude Thaddeus, to live an honest and virtuous life.
Although the turning point of The Good Bandit is Ortega’s religious experience, extensive or even rudimentary exposure to Catholicism is not necessary. The premise may sound like a parable, but the show is anything but. Saint Jude Thaddeus even serves as one of the comic reliefs. Filled with excessive salaciousness and crass humor, the show has enough implied and directly included sensuality to make a saint blush. Though this is to be expected of a telenovela. In comparison to some of Netflix’s other shows, The Good Bandit is rather tame.
The show is serialized and a whopping total of sixty-three episodes. A challenge to binge watch, but not impossible. It’s a lengthy show, but each episode has quick paced plots that are usually solved within two or three episodes. However, some of the plotlines that carry over can begin to feel redundant, especially when it comes to Ortega having to hide his previous affairs from his wife. The overall tone of the show is exaggerated and flamboyant, similar to that of Arrested Development (Mitchell Hurwitz 2003). However, what made Arrested Development so successful was its mastery of dramatic irony. The Good Bandit instead is like a stuffed turducken of drama.
Initially, Ortega’s main conflict is in trying to convince everyone – literally everyone – around him that he has turned over a new leaf. The detective that arrested him, Detective Ramirez (Andres Toro), is obsessed with seeing Ortega behind bars once more. Likewise, Ortega’s underlings are also convinced that his many attempts at running an honest business are all fronts for reinstating the drug business. Given that the audience knows of Ortega's true intentions - as pure as his adversaries think nefarious - it causes a humorous juxtaposition between what is real and what is believed.
The special effects are low budget and amateur, but excusable. Aside from the upfront quips, a lot of the humor is subtle, such as referencing political figures in the same parties and functions as the criminals. At times overdone, the excessiveness of the show wavers between humorous and horrendous. The Good Bandit is a show not meant for deep thought or even a complex plot, but good for laugh when needed. It’s when The Good Bandit attempts to deviate from its genre that the show suffers. The moments of seriousness in the first half of the season disrupt the rhythm of the show.
Ortega's decision to "be good" doesn't seem all too impactful at first. Even as a drug lord, he wasn't exactly fearsome or ferocious. If anything, he was just an unlikable and impetuous individual. Because of this, even though the show is entirely revolved around his transformation, his character feels stagnant. He goes from a family man who deals drugs to a family man who struggles to find a stable source of income and a reputable reputation. Even the obstacles he faces — finding a new job, dealing with over-affectionate lawyers and overzealous police detectives, etc. — aren't all too challenging. Every time Ortega must decide between his former life and his new one, he receives a vision of what he would have done five years prior. Then, either the voice of his daughter or of Saint Jude comes to act as his own personal conscience. As such, Ortega’s difficult decisions aren’t difficult at all. In fact, it’s almost too easy. It’s not until closer to episode twenty that Ortega’s inner frustrations come out as an imagined manifestation of his former self.
As for the women of the show, they’re either ditzy, dangerous, desperate, or some combination thereof. Natalia (Norma Nivia) goes from Ortega’s competent lawyer to a crazed ex-lover obsessed with him. She does become more and more pitiful as the season progresses, but not enough to erase her past actions. Mile (Caroline Acevedo), Ortega’s wife, is introduced as a bimbo. Conversely to Natalia, she does gain some independence and pride, but ultimately, the show treats its female characters as accessories for the men.
The show isn’t great, but it also isn’t terrible. There are moments that drag on and other times when a genuine chuckle is warranted. The Good Bandit is best when it doesn't try to be more than what it is: A pleasant distraction.