In recent years there’s been something of a fashion for Spanish crime capers, and writing duo Álex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato are a major reason why. Their hits include Netflix’s international smash Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) and the superb English language series White Lines (a murder mystery set in Ibiza).
Their newest Netflix drama, Sky Rojo, is a gaudy tale of pimps and prostitutes that sadly disappoints – although less so if it’s watched with subtitles rather than the absurd and distracting dubbing one receives by default as an English-speaking viewer.
It is based around Las Novias Club, a night club and brothel in the Tenerife desert where Coral (Verónica Sánchez), a prostitute, holds court on a red leatherette sofa, working for Romeo (Asier Etxeandia), a pimp with romantic as well as exploitative intentions towards her. She also provides sardonic narration.
Sky Rojo is unimpeachably stylish, filled as it is with pastel colours and a rock, dance and flamenco soundtrack, Coral’s knowing quips and a cast that includes Argentinian pop star Lali Espósito and Cuban actress Yany Prado. Pina and Lobato have also clearly paid attention to detail. There’s an authenticity to the glamorous naffness of the world of prostitution that the viewer is looking into.
Yet one feels a drama dealing with such a nasty place needs more than contemplative lines and good looks. Sky Rojo never quite escapes the superficial nature of its subject matter to make its audience truly care about the experiences of its characters – even when they are taking bloody, if unplanned, revenge on the sleazy men exploiting them. It may seem strange to say a villain is too unlikeable, but Romeo is. The best baddies have a charm and an interior life that makes viewers feel conflicted when they get their comeuppance. He is a creep one wants off screen as quickly as possible.
That encapsulates the problem with this show: it has all the right ingredients for a thrilling crime caper – sharp dialogue, a strong cast, and stunning visuals – and some viewers will perhaps enjoy it for those reasons, but one can’t help but feel there’s a lack of soul or moral heart to the tale. It may be a worryingly accurate portrayal of the nature of prostitution and pimping, but it’s not something one particularly wants to invest several hours of time watching.
Sky Rojo is released on Netflix on 19th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sky Rojo here: