‘Belascoarán, PI’ Review: An Independent Detective in Mexico

Detective stories. We all love a good old-fashioned detective story. When they are well constructed, they can be particularly engrossing in ways no other genre is able to be. Literature is plagued with many famous detectives, just like Sherlock Holmes. Hercules Poirot, and even now in the 21st century, Rian Johnson’s Benoit Blanc is also on the run to become one of those famous detectives. Mexico has its own famous detective, and his name is Hector Belascoarán Shayne. The Mexican detective jumps from the page to Netflix with his own series. Let’s review it.

Belascoarán is a Mexican Netflix TV series produced by Hector Villegas and starring, Luis Gerardo Mendez, Paulina Gaitan, and Irene Azuela. The series tells the story of Hector Belascoarán Shayne, an office worker who gets tired of the redundancy of his life and leaves everything behind, including his wife, and becomes a private detective. The character was originally created by author Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and is the protagonist of a very popular series of detective novels.

Like many others before him, Belascoarán jumps from the page to the screen, and he does it in somewhat a successful way. The production values of the series are quite nice. The production design team has really done an excellent job of recreating and transporting us to the Mexico of the 1970s. Unlike Benoit Blanc, Belascoarán is trapped in the past, which makes his profession a lot less complicated and complicated enough at the same time. Either way, you can see that the technical crew behind the production has really done a lot of great work here. The costumes are also quite fabulous.

However, Belascoarán slips when it comes to the most important part of any detective story. It could be that in this first outing as a detective, the character isn’t fully fleshed out, but Belascoarán lacks an interesting protagonist, and it also lacks an interesting mystery. Without those two elements, the show ends up feeling not only boring but pointless. The series of novels that the show is based on was quite popular. So, there is something missing between the page and the screen, and it is a shame because what got lost was the most significant factor of them all.

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Belascoarán as a character isn’t particularly intriguing because he doesn’t behave in any particular way. Detectives in detective stories are often defined by a series of characteristics that make them special. They are typically characters that are obsessed with finding the truth. And because their obsession is so big, and they feel about every case so passionately, then you, as a reader or a viewer, end up connecting with the story in the same way. You’re ready to follow the character right to the end, so you can find out what is actually happening in any particular case.

Belascoarán doesn’t ignite that can of devotion. He is, for all intent and purpose, just a guy, a normal guy who apparently doesn’t even take his role as a detective very seriously, even when he threw his previous life away to become just that. The series functions with this weird tone where everything is serious but nothing really is. For example, in a story dealing with serial killers, everyone acts so casually about everything that it makes you wonder. Then why should you care more than the characters do?

The answer is that you shouldn’t. Belascoarán, the character, seems to think of his role as a detective more as a hobby than anything else, and so do we. It could be that the reason for this feeling is Mendez’s performance as Belascoarán. The actor is charming, but in no way does he feel like a detective, or at least someone trying to be one. He often looks confused about what is happening, and you could say he is still learning his job, which is true, but you never feel that he has the grit that might make him a great detective in the future.

The same goes for the rest of the cast. They seem to have been directed into thinking they are playing characters in a comedy, but then the series itself tries to be a serious story. The mix between these two mismatched tones doesn’t end well in the long run. The mystery itself isn’t particularly compelling either, the writing is sloppy and none of the clues feel quite as meaningful as they could be. The dialogue frequently falls into generic lines that appear to be written to sound intelligent, but then you realize that most lines are just exposition and filler.

The sloppy writing then affects the acting, and the acting makes the writing seem worse. It becomes a strange and toxic cycle. In the end, the show feels just a bit undercooked when it comes to its plot and characters. The tone seems to be doing the most harm, as nothing seems particularly important, and so no matter how gruesome the case is, the feeling is that we are seeing a parody of a similar case.

Belascoarán fails to make its main character memorable, and the cases are also quite generic. It is very strange that this is the case, considering the fame of its source material. Maybe we are in front of a case where Belascoarán came too late to the party. We have seen stories like this too many times before, and without any hint of innovation, this series feels like a lot of potential being wasted.

SCORE: 6/10

  • Nelson Acosta

    Nelson Acosta is a professional writer and translator based in Caracas, Venezuela. He is also a member of the Caracas Circle of Cinematographic Critics, a film critic association in Venezuela that aims to preserve and educate audiences on worldwide and Venezuelan cinema. He studi...