Video music channels have aired reality shows since the early 1990s, pretty much since the beginning of reality shows. At this point, VH-1 is as much a veteran at airing reality shows as MTV. The newest show from the classic music network is “Cartel Crew.” In it, the children of infamous Latinx drug lords try to find their way in the world. For some viewers, that the adult children are using their parents’ pasts as springboards for their new careers is problematic to say the least.
Some online responders to the show have questioned the validity of the cast members’ bloodlines. Popular sentiments and questions are in the vein of the following: Would the family members of real cartel members really talk? Or, how disgusting to use the bloody history of their families to further their own agendas.
As far as ratings go, “Cartel Crew” has only earned 5.2 stars out of ten on IMDb.
“Cartel Crew”: its premise and potential
The mixed response to “Cartel Crew” is easy to understand. For one, the show plays to audience’s interest in the lives of notorious people. The popularity of shows and movies about El Chapo, for example bears this out. However, do the adult children who claim to be going legit, but whose words and actions bear the stamp of underworld behavior, have the same attraction for viewers? In some cases, no.
The show’s visuals help viewers remember the background of the cast members. Graphics appear that make it look as if the cast were under surveillance. Maybe it is meant to be funny, but it is slightly unsettling.
In one telling scene with Griselda Blanco’s youngest son, Michael Blanco, he is doing an interview with a radio station in Miami (where “Cartel Crew” is set) and attempts to promote his fashion line “Pure Blanco.” That it sounds like a description of cocaine and Michael brags in the interview that “Scarface” was based on his mother, does not seem like there is enough distance from the past that he wants to escape. Further, when the radio host talks about the cocaine trade’s “bloody history” Michael acts offended. But, as his mother was gunned down by federal agents and his mother reportedly was responsible for the deaths of two hundred people, not to mention all those involved in the buying and selling of cocaine that was not at the cartel level, in addition to deaths by overdose, cocaine is not an “innocent” pastime.
But, Michael refuses to hate his mother, which is understandable. He is not living a lavish life– he points out that he’s driving a Honda, not anything flashy. Still, some of his fashions bear the face of his late mother. His plans are to take his clothing line national. But who wants to wear it? Sure, Griselda is smiling in the images, but should potential wearers pretend they don’t know who she is? Could he not have made clothes without her image? Sometimes the show raises more questions than it can provide answers for.
Other cast members on the show include Carlos “Loz” Oliveros, Marie Ramirez De Arellano, Katherine “Tatu Baby” Flores, twins Nicole Zavala and Michael Zavala (whose allegedly unverifiable cartel ties are a source of tension), Dayana Castellanos and Stephanie Acevedo.
The show’s premise is that the adult children are finding their way in the world after the fall of the cartels, or the death or incarceration of a parent who was in the cartel. Some viewers might have imagined that the cast of “Cartel Crew” would be doing regular professional jobs, maybe with changed names. That is not what happens.
Part of the problem with the show, especially among the women, is that they judge other people’s legitimacy on their cartel ties. Marie is in a relationship with Michael Blanco. She recruits Katherine, Stephanie and Nicole to be brand ambassadors for Michael’s show. From the moment the other women meet Nicole, all of them, except Marie, want to know what cartel she is from. So much for distance. A fight erupts over Nicole’s apparent support for the NYPD online. She can’t be legit if she has a family member who is an officer. This sounds like what someone would say if he or she was actively involved in a criminal enterprise.
The show’s flawed premise gets worse when “Cartel Crew” begins to act just like every other reality show that depends on women fighting to enliven an episode. Another problem is the question of the Zavalas. Either the show’s creators threw them in on purpose to see if the others would find them out, or they didn’t do their research, or Nicole Zavala’s assertions are correct: she grew up with money and wasn’t told where it came from. It seems she was told the cartel, but nothing further. At the end of episode one, no one else was buying it.
There is potential for “Cartel Crew” to entertain people. However, those involved with anti-drug initiatives, those who have been hurt by drugs, and those who might want reality shows with easier premises, are likely to skip this one.