Sky Rojo is the best of Alex Pina’s work post Money Heist, taking the gaudy excess of White Lines and imbuing it with frantic energy and welcome dark humour.
This review of Sky Rojo season 1 is spoiler-free.
Álex Pina seems to have carved out a very specific niche for himself on Netflix. With the success of Money Heist, and then the solid but subsequently cancelled White Lines, there’s clearly a market for gaudy crime shows set on picturesque party islands. Pina revels in debauchery, sun, sex, sand, and cinematography; these shows all look good, feel a bit dirty, and have no bother attracting an audience.
All of these things will inevitably apply to the latest, Sky Rojo, an eight-part crime thriller set in Tenerife and following three prostitutes, Coral (Verónica Sánchez), Gina (Yany Prado) and Wendy (Lali Espósito), who flee their loathsome pimp, Romeo (Asier Etxeandía), and go on the run from his goons Moisés (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Christian (Enric Auquer). The usual elements are all present and correct – lots of neon, pounding music, and naked bodies, but here with a welcome dose of humour, an obvious girl power streak, and a breakneck pace mandated by each of the eight episodes only running twenty to thirty minutes.
The trio at the centre of Sky Rojo have crackling chemistry and an eagerness to subvert the obvious stereotypes. Pina gets the audience on-side by detailing, early and often, both the barbaric treatment they endured while working for Romeo and the tragic circumstances that led them to be trapped in a brothel in the first place. Utilizing POV shifts, flashbacks, montages, and all the usual tricks, attention is divided equally among the women and their pursuers, helping to develop both character and context and to keep the energy of the chase all the way up. It seems I’m always complaining about the length and pace of Netflix shows, and for once I don’t have to – Sky Rojo is worth a binge recommendation on that basis alone.
But there’s more to it than that. Attempts to characterise the villains – the henchmen, anyway – are a mixed bag but welcome nonetheless, and the show’s frank approach to violence, nudity, and sexuality is played for both tension and comedy. Sometimes this can make the tone feel muddled. Moments of horrific sexual violence aren’t played for giggles, but they are wheeled out often and are lingered over unflinchingly. It can feel gratuitous, even though I’d argue it serves a purpose in immediately putting the viewer in the headspace of the core characters. I was immediately on-side with Coral, Gina, and Wendy, eager for their success and for the eccentric villains to receive their comeuppance. There might not be much restraint, but has anyone who has ever visited Tenerife expected to find it?