Is This Netflix Show The New Narcos?

Emanuela Scarpa/Netflix
Ah, Rome. The eternal city, where Fiats speed past ancient ruins, where hordes of tourists gaze up at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, where delicious food is a fact of life. But let’s stop ourselves before we wax poetic. The show Suburra, an Italian-language Netflix original dropping on October 6, is here to shatter any preconceptions you may have of Rome. In Suburra, beautiful, stunning Rome is the setting for political corruption, mafia scandals, violence — and plot stakes so high you’ll be racing towards the next episode.
Suburra begins with the negotiations for something the three primary families in the show all want: A small plot of land in the port neighborhood of Ostia, which is being rezoned for construction. This land offers an opportunity to construct a Vegas-like gambling paradise, and have control over the port for their drug trade. But before that can happen, each family will have to negotiate channels in the government and the Vatican, and that won’t be easy.
In Suburra, fans of the show Narcos will recognize themes of government corruption, large families of drug traders, shocking violence, and a cast so sprawling and confusing you’ll need an explainer like this one to figure it out.
Fear not: here’s what you need to know before watching Suburra.
Read These Stories Next:
1 of 9
First of all, what does “Suburra” mean?

In ancient Rome, "Subura" was a crowded, slightly seedy suburb where the wealthy would mingle in taverns with the lower class, often searching to hire prostitutes or assassins. Subura’s most famous resident was Julius Caesar, who was born in the district.

In 2015, Stefano Sollima, director of the gritty mafia movie Gomorrah, revisited the subject with the movie Suburra. This Netflix show is set four years before Sollima’s film. Like the movie, it attempts to show another side of Rome.

“You have to imagine the power of Washington D.C., with the economic force of New York City and the biggest mega-church in the world, all working and plotting together in a very small city,” producer Gina Gardini told Screen Daily of the show.
2 of 9
Ancient Rome’s cool, but how can a show about land ordinances be interesting?

Trust me, even if its action is incited by a minor change in the land ordinance code, Suburra is interesting.

The show combines very relatable family dynamics with absolutely insane situations: Priests with coke problems, sweet boys who owe the mob $20,000, and a mafioso named Samurai (Francesco Acquaroli, pictured) who somehow manages to be everywhere at once.
3 of 9
Let’s talk about that first scene.

The show begins with — wait for it — a very drawn-out orgy scene. An older, Leonard Cohen-esque man walks out of a limo, and into a dark, mysterious room, where approximately 20 bodies writhe like a snake pit. It is nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before on TV. And it’s also even more wild when we discover that the older man is a high-up Vatican official named Monsignor Theodosiou (Gerasimos Skiadaresis, pictured).

When three of the main characters get their hands on a video of Monsignor Theodosiou with a prostitute, they decide to extort him for €300,000.
4 of 9
Who are these young extortioners?

As in Narcos, many of the central figures in Suburra are young boys caught up in a system they can’t get out of. The system shaped them.

First, there’s Alberto “Spadino” Anacleti (Giacomo Ferrara, pictured), who comes from a huge, gypsy mafia family. His family lives in a gated complex, and there’s never a room that’s not crowded. Manfredi Anacleti (Adamo Dionisi), family matriarch, wants to expand their territory, and had sent Spadina’s to another mafia’s territory. There, the cousin had been badly beat up by Aureliano Adami (Alessandro Borghi). More on Aureliano later.

Spadino has been forced into an engagement with a young gypsy woman. His mother recognizes why he doesn’t want to get married, but he’s trapped into the situation. His family would never accept his sexual preferences.
5 of 9
Then, there’s the Adami family.

Meet child-of-the-mob number two, Aureliano Adami. Aureliano’s family owns the little spot of land by the port that everyone wants. His father (Federico Tocci) is already set on selling it to Samurai, as he’s told Aureliano’s sister, Livia (Barbara Chichiarelli).

Livia is the brains of the family, and their father's favorite. Aureliano is the very violent loose cannon.

Pictured, left to right: Borghi, Chichiarelli, Tocci
6 of 9
Finally, meet your new TV bae: Lele Marchilli.

Unlike his two comrades in extortion, Gabriele “Lele” Marchilli (Eduardo Valdarnini, pictured) isn’t the son of the mob. He’s the son of a police officer. Unbeknownst to his father, Lele is a drug dealer who’s recently run into trouble with Samurai’s group. He owes €20,000 euro, and that’s a problem.

To get some more money, he agrees to throw a “fun night” for Monsignor Theodosiou.
7 of 9
How does this all connect to the land debacle?

So far, we know that Samurai and Manfredi want the land. But so does Sara (Claudia Gerini), who works at the Vatican. The Vatican will decide whom the land is going to. She wants it to go to her husband’s company, and is willing to give Monsignor Theodosiou what he wants (a.k.a. drugs and prostitutes) to be sure he votes the right way.

On the other hand, Samurai is busy trying to corrupt an upright government worker so he can get his hands on Ostia first.

Pictured: Gerini
8 of 9
In the end, all these narrative acrobatics are not the most important part.

There are a lot of moving parts in this show. A lot. So many that, as with Narcos, I had to watch some scenes twice. Yet what binds the show together is very relatable, deeply intense personal problems.

“The movie is dark and melancholic, the series instead is emotional,” Gardini told Screen Daily.

It’s a show about individuals trapped within a system. So: Enjoy sightseeing a different side to Rome than you’ve ever seen before. Enjoy seeing characters fight for power. And just try resisting binge watching.
9 of 9
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from TV


R29 Original Series