If You Miss ‘Narcos,’ You Should Watch ‘Hotel Cocaine’

The Hotel Mutiny, a debaucherous Miami members club, backdrops the energetic series starring Danny Pino, Michael Chiklis, and Yul Vazquez.Published Jun. 15, 2024 11:45PM EDT Carlos Rodriguez/MGM+The glitz and glamor of 1978 Miami comes to life within the walls of the Hotel Mutiny, an exclusive members club. Here, you can leave your worries at the door and indulge

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The Hotel Mutiny, a debaucherous Miami members club, backdrops the energetic series starring Danny Pino, Michael Chiklis, and Yul Vazquez.

Barry Levitt

A still from Hotel Cocaine

Carlos Rodriguez/MGM+

The glitz and glamor of 1978 Miami comes to life within the walls of the Hotel Mutiny, an exclusive members club. Here, you can leave your worries at the door and indulge in pure ecstasy. Literally. Miami’s hottest destination is a place of drug-fuelled debauchery, sure, but also a place where you can leave your worries at check-in and let go of all that ails you. And if you’re a member of the Mutiny club, there’s an exceptional chance you have some seriously heavy worries.

Created by Chris Brancato, Hotel Cocaine, premiering June 16 on MGM+, begins with a furious energy, matched by Swizz Beats’ opening earworm, a song so catchy you’ll be singing “Hotel Cocaine” like it isn’t an absolutely ridiculous title. The show’s sense of excitement immediately separates it from its crime-drama competitors, as this seems to offer something different: Who said the cocaine trade can’t be fun?

A still from Hotel Cocaine

Nestor Cabal (Yul Vazquez), one of the most notorious coke dealers in all of Miami, in Hotel Cocaine.

Carlos Rodriguez/MGM+

Our guide inside the heady, hedonistic paradise is Roman Compte (Danny Pino), general manager of the Hotel Mutiny. “We were the hottest pleasure palace in Miami,” Roman warmly narrates in the first scene, amidst shots of partying. “Drug dealers avoided killing each other because everyone was having too much fun,” he recalls. That fun, however, is about to come to a crashing halt. DEA agent Zulio (a delightful Michael Chiklis, in familiar territory) has discovered Roman’s brother is none other than Nestor Cabal (Yul Vazquez), one of the most notorious coke dealers in all of Miami.

Zulio forces Roman to help him take down Nestor, threatening him with aiding and abetting his brother, which would take him away from his beloved daughter Valeria (Corina Bradley) for good. So Roman agrees to reunite with his estranged brother Nestor, which ropes him into a relentless and violent drug war as he tries to maintain his family—and his job at the Mutiny.

A still from Hotel Cocaine

Roman’s beloved daughter Valeria (Corina Bradley).

Carlos Rodriguez/MGM+

Pino is exceptional in the lead role. As the manager of such an infamous hotel, Roman is no stranger to chaos. The drug trade isn’t exactly foreign to him either, as there’s so much drug use in the Mutiny that the taps practically run white. Yet even for Roman, working alongside the DEA to entrap his brother is a serious test of his mental fortitude. Pino is hugely convincing as a man who can handle any imaginable circumstance thrown his way, yet even someone of his prowess starts to show cracks, and it’s those glimpses of vulnerability that make Pino’s performance so enticing.

When Hotel Cocaine focuses on the ongoings of the Hotel Mutiny, it’s riveting. Series directors Guillermo Navarro, Fernando Rovzar, and Sara Seligman bring exuberance and excess to the Mutiny. It’s a welcome change from the bleak grittiness commonly seen in drug-trade shows like Narcos and Gangs of London. While serious dramas tend to go with a gray, muted color palette to emphasize how intense they are, Hotel Cocaine practically explodes with color inside the Mutiny as glittering showgirl costumes, playful jumpsuits, and even the wallpaper create an eye-popping effect.

As Roman gets deeper into the drug trade and the web of espionage, Hotel Cocaine moves further from the Mutiny and further away from the intrigue of the initial episodes, favoring a more typical turf war that’s commonplace in drug dramas. There’s a burden here to stay true to the history that inspired the show, but the shift from the titular establishment takes the show from its most appealing premise—a hotel where drug lords, cops, and the who’s who of society can all gather in neutral territory—and transitions into an overly familiar crime saga. Hotel Cocaine starts to feel more like a retread of what you’ve seen before, and while it’s done well, a lot of promise from the initial episodes has all but vanished.

A still from Hotel Cocaine

Carlos Rodriguez/MGM+

This also leads to some frustrating characterizations. That’s especially true of Janice (Laura Gordon), who is in charge of the hotel’s performers while doubling as Roman’s confidant. An intriguing plot thread finds Janice seeking revenge on an adult-entertainment producer who took advantage of her and other women. Gordon plays Janice with a slowly unfurling rage, and it’s nothing short of thrilling. But the thread is quickly resolved, leaving Janice with far too little to do and reducing her to Roman’s support system. Moving things from the hotel stalls Janice’s potential.

There are also some absorbing case-of-the-week narratives with various real-life legends like Hunter S. Thompson (John Ventimiglia) and Rick James (Larry Powell), who’ve come to the Hotel Mutiny to seek creative inspiration. While they’re a bit out of left field, these funny moments balance out Hotel Cocaine’s intense dramatics. But these, too, are ultimately cast aside as the show gets further from the walls of the Mutiny.

Despite various challenges, Hotel Cocaine is entertaining enough to fill that drug-crime-drama hole in your life. For fans of shows like Narcos, Griselda, and Snowfall, MGM+’s Hotel Cocaine should be right up your alley. Or right up your nose.

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