‘Club De Cuervos’, a great comedy about football and family
This Netflix original series about a football club is perfect for bingeing in the run-up to 2018 FIFA World Cup
No man’s tears are as respectable as those of a football fan. Be it in joy or anguish, the passion of football commands reverence and immediate respect. There is respect throbbing through every aspect of football: respect to the ground, respect to the team colours, respect to the pageantry, respect to the coach, respect to the science, respect to the shoes, respect to those who score goals and those who keep goals from being scored, respect to the stadiums, respect to the rules (and to the geniuses that bend them just so) and respect to the fan.
Respect is the one thing Salvador Iglesias Jr doesn’t have at all. The young new president of the Cuervos Football Club faces such unanimous disdain, in fact, that nobody around him refers to him by his first name, choosing instead to call him “Chava"—meaning junior, or kid. He is an under-qualified and impetuous man-child who has stepped ungraciously into his father’s shoes—or, at least, worn his signature crow-head medallion—and wants, more than anything, to be looked upon with respect as he tries to build, in a small Mexican town, “the Real Madrid of Latin America".
Club De Cuervos, or Club Of Crows, started out as the first Spanish-language original series on Netflix, and it is a fine show to discuss for this World Cup special. Written and directed by Gary Alazraki, the comedy-drama focuses on a fictional Mexican city that is less significant than its local football club. Naturally, this means this club—named Cuervos—means everything to the town, and the death of the club owner plunges his two children into a bitter rivalry. Isabel is qualified and competent and understands sport as well as administration, but she is passed over by the board of directors because she is a not a man. The title of “El Presidente" goes to her half-brother Chava, and she can’t stand it.
I started watching the show this weekend with the intention of parsing the pilot episode for this football-themed column, but I was hooked three scenes in, and can’t stop watching (or occasionally swearing in Spanish). The show starts off like a smart but spoofy telenovela, with exaggerated characters—like the dead father’s evil mistress who sashays on to the scene in slow motion—but soon it becomes apparent that each character is more than a type, and that they are, like football players, capable of surprising us in their own peculiar ways. Isabel starts off capable and wronged, but, drunk on vengeance, lets the team down on many levels, while Chava...
To be fair, Chava stays Chava. A true fool can be a wondrous thing, and this reckless, feckless idiot—who snorts cocaine off the bosoms of strippers alongside his players—is as true as they come. Like the wise men said in the old song, he rushes in. His ideas to upend the team are immature and ill-conceived, the work of a child left in charge. At one point, determined to make his mark on the team, he starts designing new jerseys, while his mother dotingly calls him her “Little Gianni Versace" (he does this mid-season, dumping existing merchandise and infuriating the sponsors). He is also the worst kind of incompetent, one who quotes a motivational speaker whenever in doubt. Chava can’t help it. Some fools are meant to be.
Some fools also fail upwards. Even when they lose their way, they end up stumbling on to a gold mine—or at least something shiny. I watched this show and kept imagining a specific hard-partying heir to an Indian liquor baron behaving wildly irresponsible at the reins of his father’s sports teams, and while I agree the comparison may be unfair and unfounded, the parallel helped me make sense of Chava and his all-important struggle to break out of an easily maligned public persona.
The crows themselves are delightful. A show about managing football has to get its shoes muddy, and Club De Cuervos spends a lot of time on the field and in the locker room, letting us know the players and their individual struggles, apart from the headlessness over at management. The football cinematography is immersive and authentic, and we see also the passion and pain of the crowds, and the desperate universal need to have home-grown heroes. At one point in the first season, a player retires at the end of a long career and faces a heartbreakingly empty stadium in his final game, a game nobody cares about because it doesn’t affect the league standings. Yet he gives it his all, and football reminds us that one can be a hero even in front of a handful.
It’s enough to make a man cry. Club De Cuervos does more than that, piling on the laughs and the dramatic twists and pointing out just how much a game can mean. Chava keeps hunting for metaphors (and missing them), but the many crows of the title are the best metaphor of the lot. Football is murder.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic, columnist and screenwriter. His first book, a children’s adaptation of The Godfather, titled The Best Baker In The World, is out now. He tweets at @RajaSen.