19-2 French Language Promo pic with Real Bosse as Nick Berrof and Claude Legault as Ben Chartier

Malaka, on Walter Presents, is a Spanish series set in the gritty underbelly of tourist mecca Málaga, Spain. If you google “Málaga”, the photos you see are not even close to where this series takes place. Corrupt cop Darío “Gato” Arjona (Salva Reina) keeps the peace between the drug clans in the projects of Málaga. He is paired with new arrival Blanca Gámez (Maggie Civantos), daughter of the former chief, Jacinto Gámez, who has recently suffered a stroke. Their first case is a missing girl of a prominent real estate developer, but in passing, Chief Sarabia (Manuel Morón) mentions to Gato that there is a new, powerful hashish on the street known as “Oro”. Gato ditches Blanca to track down this drug that will certainly destroy the hard-won equilibrium of the current trafficking network. Joaquin “Quino” Romero (Vicente Romero) is a private detective hired by the mother of a junkie to find her son, which leads him right into Blanca’s missing girl case. As you would expect, the missing girl and the Oro cases converge, bringing Gato back into the fold.

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Malaka is more of a character study than strict procedural. Gato reminds me of Kurt Grimmer of Berlin Dogs -a corrupt cop with rough charm, who is juggling way too many balls. He has a teenaged son that wants nothing to do with him, and an ex-wife that he still pines for. He’s a mess; constantly high or drunk, but functioning. Somehow, you still root for him, despite the unending bad decisions he makes. Blanca is a dark horse. She transferred from Madrid, ostensibly to take be near her father, but she can’t make herself visit him in the rehab center. When she does, she is alternately grief-stricken or full of rage at his inability to communicate. She has a partner and a 4-month old son back in Madrid that she Skypes with, but she is oddly detached from both of them. Quino is a downtrodden, alcoholic private detective who suspects his wife is having an affair. Turns out he was “a legend” of a cop, but he had a falling out with Blanca’s father and was kicked off the force several years ago. His tactics for getting people to talk are unethical, but fun to watch. For some reason, he feels for Álvaro (Emilio Palacios), the junkie he was hired to find, and he ends up working with Blanca on the murder case.

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The Plot

When Noelia Castañeda (Helena Kaittani), the eco-spiritual daughter of real estate magnate Germán Castañeda (Antonio Gil) goes missing, Blanca and Gato are assigned to the case. Gato assumes she is off partying, but by the end of the day, her body is dredged out of the sea by some fishermen. Meanwhile, a new dealer has shown up in Gato’s neighborhood, and Gato wants to get rid of him in order to keep the peace. But this Oro is a bigger problem. It is instantly addictive, and makes users crazy. Nobody can figure out where it is coming from. Sarabia is desperate to keep it off the streets, and presses Gato to use his network to nip it in the bud. Blanca, working on her own but covering for Gato, focuses on the murder of Noelia, slowly piecing together her last days. Quino is hired by Álvaro’s distraught mother trying to find her son who’s gone missing. Well, that’s because he’s gone crazy from Oro. And it turns out he is Noelia’s boyfriend. Or at least, HE thinks he is. The pathology report tells a different story.

Our Take on Malaka

If you google “Málaga, Spain”, the photos you see are nothing like the setting for Malaka, with its mid-rise projects populated with junkies and thugs. Although this series reminds me of several other shows, including Amsterdam Vice, it’s still engaging, mostly because of the stellar cast. Salva Reina as the shambolic Gato and Vicente Romero as the heartbroken Quino are standouts. Blanca is harder to root for, because her motives are obscured, but her teamwork with Quino is a pleasure to watch. Keeping track of the various drug gangs in Gato’s neighborhood is confusing, but look for scene stealer Laura Baena as Gypsy drug queen La Tota. It’s not without flaws, but if you are looking for a gripping character study in the gritty underbelly of a tourist city, Malaka is for you.

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