ZeroZeroZero is the impossibly exciting new drugs series from Roberto Saviano — the author who gave us perhaps my all-time favourite TV drama Gomorrah. What I love about Gomorrah is its utter ruthlessness and total artistic integrity. It’s set amid the warring drugs factions of the Neopolitan mafia (the Camorra) and never at any point do you feel that authenticity is being sacrificed for reasons of marketability or politically correct sensitivities or narrative arc. Not without reason has it been called the series ‘where characters die before they become characters’.
Saviano himself has paid a terrible price for his honesty. He grew up among those Neapolitan gangs — ‘I saw my first corpse in my first year of secondary school’ — and has described their world with such fidelity that he is now a marked man. ‘This life is shit — it’s hard to describe how bad it is,’ he has said of his miserable peripatetic existence, now mainly in the US, with bodyguards, continually shifting travel arrangements and windowless rooms. Perhaps this is why mirth is largely absent from his creations.
His latest drama is named after the purest level of cocaine, before it gets endlessly cut for the retail market. It tells the story of a single cocaine shipment from South America to Europe from three different perspectives: a Mexican drugs cartel, an ’Ndrangheta clan in Calabria, and the American Lynwood family from New Orleans whose shipping company has for three decades been shifting the stuff across the Atlantic.
That might sound boringly schematic. Certainly, it lacks the fluidity of Gomorrah, and threatens to turn into one of those non-fiction bestsellers you buy in mild desperation at the airport bookshop, called something like Inside the Cocaine Trade. But there are compensations, one of which is that you get three tense, labyrinthine and gloriously violent thriller plotlines for the price of one.
The most conventional is the English-speaking one, with Gabriel Byrne as the shipping patriarch and Angela Riseborough and Dane DeHaan as the children, Emma and Chris, being groomed for succession.