The Watchman: ‘Narcos’ Shifts on Netflix, and Biggie Still Notorious on A&E

Our deputy editor’s weekly look at the programming scene

The new season of Narcos arrives on Netflix Sept. 1. With Pablo Escobar dead and gone, season three focuses on the Cali Cartel. Executive producer Eric Newman describes the Cali cabal as “a more evolved species in the drug business” than Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.

“Escobar stood against the system,” Newman said. “Cali was the system.”

Don’t expect to see Escobar, who was played by Wagner Moura, in flashbacks. “His presence will be felt,” Newman said. “But he won’t be seen.”

Newman is psyched to see Narcos shift so smoothly. “Going from Escobar to the Cali Cartel in a way that is satisfying to the audience — to see we pulled that off will make me really happy,” he said.

The Cali Cartel will be the focus of season three, and that’s it. Plenty of other drug gangs might merit the spotlight thereafter. “We’re certainly not winning the drug war any time soon,” Newman said. “We can go on a long time. I’ll do this as long as they let me.”

For another bit of rough and tumble programming, A&E offers up Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G. starting Sept. 4. It’s been 20 years since Biggie was murdered, and the film, marking the return of A&E’s Biography franchise, checks in with Puff Daddy, Biggie’s widow Faith Evans and his mother, the charismatic Voletta Wallace, among others, for their insights on the famed Brooklyn rapper.

Biggie shows “the intimate side of Biggie,” said director/executive producer Mark Ford. “I’ve rarely seen him portrayed through his own story, told through his own words.”

Ford knew Voletta and Faith from his time producing VH1’s Behind the Music, which tackled Biggie in 2001. The two are executive producers in the A&E project; Ford describes them as “partners all the way.”

He was a fan of Biography, which A&E ran repeats of in 1987, began producing new episodes for in 1990 and ended in 2012. “It was one of our competitors,” Ford said. “I think I lost an Emmy to Biography!”

A&E gave Ford plenty of creative freedom. Biggie was initially supposed to run for two hours, but the rough cut was strong enough to have A&E say yes to three. “I’m thrilled to be the first film in this respected franchise,” Ford said. “I hope the Biggie film sets the template.”

The Notorious B.I.G. is the uncommon hip-hop legend whose music is still widely heard and appreciated. A trip to Bed-Stuy, Ford said, reminds one of Biggie’s bigness. “You can’t go two blocks without seeing his face somewhere,” he said of the neighborhood’s many murals.