Recap: ‘Hotel Cocaine’ Gets Off To An Energetic Start In A Drug-Fuelled Premiere

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 16, 2024 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)
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Hotel Cocaine Episode 1 Recap - An Energetic Start
Hotel Cocaine | Image via MGM+

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

3.5

Summary

Hotel Cocaine has a manic energy that positions it in a slightly different space from most crime shows about drugs. Hopefully it sustains that tone beyond Episode 1.

I’m not sure I’d describe Hotel Cocaine as prestige TV, even though it’s tempting to put every hour-long drama with real actors in that bracket as long as it airs on a decently large platform (this one is an MGM+ original). It’s arguably too fun for the label. Sure, there are serious themes and unpleasant goings-on aplenty, but Episode 1 rockets out of the gate like it just snorted a line of pure nose candy.

Some shows just live up to their titles, I guess.

Welcome to the Hotel Mutiny

The titular Hotel Cocaine is really the Hotel Mutiny, an exclusive members club in 1978 Miami so dense with Class A narcotics the staff have a special technique to fake snorting a line – it’s either that or they accidentally overdose while convincing the rich clientele to part with their dough.

Drugs, money, drug money – this is the lifeblood of the Mutiny, Miami’s hottest pleasure palace, home to every manner of debauchery you can think of. The General Manager, Roman Compte, is used to the finer and shadier side of life, but he’s ill-prepared for being strongarmed by the DEA into helping bring down his coke lord brother, Nestor Cabal.

Roman Goes Undercover for the DEA

Roman is our guide through Episode 1 of Hotel Cocaine, which includes the usual formal tricks like ominous narration and spends most of its time inside the hotel itself, which it turns out is a fine setting. There are beautiful women all over the place, and Hunter S. Thompson is there just for fun. Where the Narcos-esque story fixtures might be overly familiar, the sheer upbeat energy of the Mutiny counts for a lot.

The DEA is represented here mostly through Zulio (a mustachioed Michael Chiklis), who threatens Roman with an aiding and abetting charge if he doesn’t befriend his estranged brother and feed back what he learns to the authorities. Since this would threaten Roman’s relationship with his daughter, Valeria, he reluctantly agrees.

Hotel Cocaine Should Retain the Tone of Episode 1

The fact this all happens in the span of one episode is pretty impressive, and the premiere even finds time for a manic shootout – Roman is nifty with an Uzi – and a bit of a cliffhanger, with Roman’s cover dependent on whether or not Nestor’s trusted right-hand man survives the bullet that Roman left in his neck.

It’s a lot to take in. The early tone – after opening credits music by Swizz Beats, another fun touch – is unmistakably that of a comedy, but it morphs so completely into gritty crime thriller territory that it’s honestly a bit jarring. Some viewers, I suspect, won’t know entirely what to make of Hotel Cocaine, at least not after one episode, and I suppose that’s fair enough.

Still, though, there seems to be a lot to like here, from the tone to the performances that cycle through moods in the same way that the screenplay cycles through styles and tones. One suspects Roman is going to have to navigate many more obstacles thrown his way, and there are some peripheral characters – including another of the Mutiny’s employees, Janice – who are worth a subplot or two. I hope the show retains its scuzzy party-hard vibe for a while at least, since there are so many drug shows involving the typical turf wars and shootouts, and precious few that are centered on getting turned up with famous journalist.

We can only hope.


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