If VÉHICULE is one thing, it’s fair. Everything deserves a proper chance. We genuinely believe that. Things need to be evaluated based on their own merits, and while subjectivity is not always feasible—or advantageous—we maintain the importance of assessing things for what they are, and not for what people tell us they are.
In that vein, we set out to take a look at Netflix’s docuseries “Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami.” Centered around the lives of Sal Magluta and Willie Falcon, two of south Florida’s remaining offshore-racing and drug-smuggling giants, this show seemed to be in our wheelhouse: an investigation of how the Miami scene pioneered by Ben Kramer, Don Aronow and their cohorts developed. We have our preconceived notions about Netflix productions, but our aim was to not bring those to this viewing experience—all in the name of fairness.
You may note that the show came out in August 2021. This piece is coming out in November. The original intention was to feed into the content cycle to which we have all become accustomed. That to which we have all become subservient. The formula is relatively simple, really. A release is announced, and everyone plans their content around it.
Maybe you’re granted an advance look at what you’re meant to be talking about, and you have the privilege of finishing your contribution to said content cycle ahead of time, scheduling it for release, sitting back and relaxing. You want to stay in the good graces of those who bestowed access to this advance look upon you, and your output will reflect that with glowing positivity and critiqueless enthusiasm. If you’re not in the PR list, maybe you write something of a skeleton article based on the trailer and what you can interpolate, and hope that your midnight viewing of the media at hand lines up with what you’ve spent hours on. In either case, the end result is that you are left desperately hoping that someone clicks on your piece, either out of curiosity, fandom, mistake or as the result of SEO trickery.
We did not hit our original goal of putting something out when the show dropped. Why? Because it took these three-something intervening months to work up the mental fortitude to think about “The Kings of Miami” again. No one wants to have their day ruined, and no one wants to ruin their own day. That’s what the mere thought of this show does to us. We’ll be honest, we were only able to make it through one complete episode. We had to watch it on 2x playback speed. We needed to get it over with. A friend filled us in on the rest in short-form.
Yes, fairness is paramount, and fairness probably dictates that you should watch the whole series before chiming in. We gave it a genuine shot, we really did. But if there’s anything that the media world knows, it’s that a strong start is everything. If your pilot episode isn’t good, no network is going to pick it up. If your lede sucks, no one is going to keep reading. And so on and so forth. The tone was set as soon as the theme song came in, and the vibes were simply off. They lost us right from the get-go, and people deserve to know that.
In concrete terms, we take issue with the structure of the series as a whole. It is no secret that Netflix has analyzed our habits to an extraordinary level and likely knows more about some aspects of us than we ourselves do. They have engineered their programming to maximize profits, regardless of what this means for their integrity, by maximizing building, praying on and even rewarding inattentive, passive viewing.
This is most apparent when considering the pure length of the series. It comes in at six episodes, each ranging between 40 and 50 minutes long. Perhaps this is showing our age, but remember feature-length documentaries? 90, maybe 120 minutes of tight, succinct storytelling that left you feeling confident, informed and respected. When done well, they were feats of filmmaking—testaments to a well-constructed crew and a mastery of the art of screenwriting.
Stretching Sal and Willie’s story out to almost 300 minutes is, in the simplest of terms, wholly unnecessary. This is, of course, depending on who you ask. If you ask someone who had their phone in-hand for the duration of the series, the tactics that Netflix employed to pump up watch time were perfect. By loading the story with filler, you were given permission to look away from one screen and at another. The time spent scrolling, and only halfway paying attention to either task, would detract from nothing—by the time you looked back up, the story hadn’t progressed to any significant extent. And the cycle repeats. Glancing back at the screen, you see the same unnecessary, three-degrees-removed talking head as before, followed by generic stock footage or some archival photo that they for some reason decided to try and make 3-D.
This, of course, is nothing unique to “The Kings of Miami.” What is unique however is the series’ disregard for the racing careers of its protagonists in favor of trend-following. True crime as a genre has of course blown up in recent years, with everyone trying to get a piece of the action. Others have done a much better job of explaining this explosion and the potential reasons for it, but what we would like to contribute is the notion that true crime, or any trending theme, is not a catch-all solution. It has its time and its place, and must always be deployed in moderation. It often takes center stage in stories where the most of-note topic in the story is the crime itself—it is what makes everything around it notable. Here, however, the subjects had storied careers of their own as powerboaters, which are just as entertaining, if not more entertaining than their misdeeds. The two are interconnected, without a doubt, but are separable in the hands of the right storyteller.
Read about the history of offshore powerboat racing in VÉHICULE.
There’s this story going around about Sal and Willie, and while it is in no way verified, it’s worth repeating. It was race-day eve for the pair’s Seahawk team—an unspecified race in an unspecified year. It was late, and the place that they had been eyeing for dinner had closed their kitchen for the night. This was the case wherever they looked nearby. The team went further into the small town where the race was set to take place to look for something, anything to eat. The only place with its lights on was a bakery. Their doors were closed, but after a few knocks, the staff came to the front and explained that they were preparing for a wedding the next day and weren’t open to the public. Sal and Willie made an offer to buy everything that they had prepared—they just wanted to get something in their stomachs. The baker refused, for understandable reasons. The two upped their offer, shoving so much cash at the baker that they couldn’t afford not to take it. For that amount, they could afford to simply redo their event prep. And the deal was done. The next day, the Seahawk team showed up to the grid with the cake they couldn’t finish, and shared it with their competitors before the race started. It was comical, but special nevertheless. Yes, it was an ostentatious gesture, but it was one rooted in sportsmanship. It was a humanizing offering that disregarded rivalry or racing’s fiercely competitive spirit, if only for a moment.
Sal and Willie had shown fairness in this maybe-true-maybe-not anecdote. We wish Netflix had extended that same courtesy in their own retelling.
VÉHICULE is the only journal for avant-garde transportation.