Effectively earlier than it even dropped, Netflix’s new present “Neon” discovered itself embroiled in a little bit of controversy. In spite of everything, how may a present that follows the trials and tribulations of a younger reggaetonero on his path to fame allegedly not embody Puerto Rican voices in its conception when the island — together with Panama — helped to pioneer the style and take it to new heights? Effectively, after just a few course corrections and the participation of reggaeton leyenda Daddy Yankee himself, “Neon” is lastly out there to stream. And whereas the criticism concerning the reported lack of Puerto Rican participation was warranted, it does not inform the entire story of what the present’s attempting to attain within the first place.
You see, “Neon” is not a narrative concerning the perreo born in Puerto Rico. Neither is it a narrative concerning the reggae en Español produced by Panama. It’s a story concerning the world, pan-Latine sensation that reggaeton has turn out to be, a style that has lengthy been increasing past its Caribbean origins. As such, the present takes care to not put on any specific ethnicity on its sleeve (though the primary character is Puerto Rican), as an alternative setting the primary stage in Miami, which has turn out to be a hub for reggaeton artists from all over the world. It is clear, then, that the objective is to attraction to as many communities as doable and inform a narrative that may converse equally for younger reggaetoneros rising up in Mexico and in Argentina. And in that facet, the present succeeds.
“What we do get is a good show about music, dreams, and the friendship that fuels it all.”
The principle forged of characters, performed by the trio of Tyler Dean Flores, Emma Ferreira, and Jordan Mendoza, are relatable, likable, and have natural chemistry. Flores’s portrayal of Santi is refreshing, as he casts apart stereotypical bravado and dials up the wide-eyed, small-town boy within the large metropolis earnestness that basically sells the character. Ferreira’s Ness does equally properly because the voice of cause of the group. After which, after all, there’s Mendoza’s Felix. Taking part in the odd-man-out Filipino finest pal, Mendoza’s blunt, profanity-filled efficiency took just a few episodes to develop on me. However as soon as it did, he was fairly often the explanation for my suits of laughter.
The pilot episode does a great job establishing the characters, their objectives, and the challenges they face in attempting to attain them. It is clear from the get-go that Santi’s expertise shouldn’t be in query right here, and the majority of the dramatic meat of the sequence will as an alternative come from how he and his mates navigate the music business reasonably than attempt to break into it. This method is refreshing and helps the present spherical out its forged, introducing secondary characters that are supposed to assist or hinder in a extra practical manner. One such character is Courtney Taylor’s Mia, whose aspect plot and private journey are at instances extra attention-grabbing and succinct than the primary narrative. That is as a result of, on account of its fast tempo, “Neon” tends to flit from plot level to plot level with out giving sufficient time to correctly develop the stakes. Whereas the present’s episodic nature permits viewers to rapidly tune in and get the gist of every part that is happening, it additionally signifies that most of the issues are resolved inside an episode or two — in different phrases, each episode has to do the work of introducing new challenges and stakes reasonably than simply constructing off the framework already in place.
Due to this, regardless of the generally dire conditions the forged finds themselves in, the stakes stay comparatively low all through everything of the primary season. Even the season finale, which ends with our principal trio in one more business debacle, appears like nothing greater than a minor setback. Maybe this may be attributed to the character of streaming, wherein showrunners are unsure of whether or not even the best-made reveals will get a second season. As such, quite a lot of character and plot growth that ought to usually happen over a number of seasons will get crammed into one. This undoubtedly feels just like the case with “Neon.” However regardless of these flaws, the present rises above them; it is in the end anchored by its robust leads and supporting forged, a bevy of cameos, and above all, coronary heart.
Cocreators Shea Serrano and Max Searle do a great job making our principal characters really feel actual, and the trio’s bond is in the end what drives the present. “Neon” additionally does a great job tackling vital points throughout the crossroads of Latinidad and music, together with the whitewashing of Latine pop stars and the controversy over authenticity inside reggaeton. And talking of authenticity, the featured artists go a good distance in serving to maintain the present genuine.
As talked about earlier, though Netflix bought quite a lot of warmth for the reported lack of Puerto Rican participation behind the scenes, in entrance of the digicam is a distinct story. “Neon” options cameos from Puerto Rican legends like Jowell, Ken-Y, and naturally Daddy Yankee. However extra spectacular is the quantity of up-and-coming expertise out of PR the present provides a highlight to. Brray, Jon Z, and Lyanno all pop as much as assist transfer the plot ahead throughout the first three episodes. Jhayco and Villano Antillano additionally get to flex their appearing chops, with Jhayco’s character of Javier Luna showing all through the season to lend a refreshing air to what may have been a one-note, antagonist-type character.
This star-studded method interprets to the soundtrack as properly — “Neon” goes out of its solution to paint a sonic image of the various style that’s reggaeton. To realize this, Netflix employed reggaeton artist, historian, and podcaster Katelina “Gata” Eccleston and music author and Los Angeles columnist Suzy Exposito as consultants. And it reveals. From mainstream bops to heavy-hitting lure to celebration anthems, the music featured in “Neon” is simply as a lot part of the narrative as what’s occurring onscreen.
So, is “Neon” an ideal present that may fulfill everybody? No, as a result of in attempting so exhausting to attraction to everybody, quite a lot of the regional specificity, the sazón, is misplaced. And due to that, we do not get as a lot circulate, we do not see as deep into the style and the scene as we may have if the story would have targeted on a selected area.
However what we do get is an effective present about music, goals, and the friendship that fuels all of it. And if “Neon” does get renewed for a second season, I believe Santi’s story is the right car for a deep dive into the person areas of reggaeton, their distinctive cultures, and their histories. And given how season one ends, plainly’s what the showrunners are constructing as much as.
Fingers crossed that “Neon” comes again for spherical 2. First cease: Puerto Rico.