Bingeworthy? Diego Luna’s “Pan y Circo” pairs Mexican cuisine with hot button Mexican issues

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Only decades of affection for the wonderful Mexican actor Diego Luna‘s screen performances and a recognition of “Well, his heart’s in the right place” can temper the tone of any review of his new chat show/series for Amazon, “Pan y Circo, (Bread and Circus).”

Blame it on the timing, round table (actually rectangular) discussions where experts and advocates discuss Mexico’s seemingly intractable social, cultural and political problems might have been a better idea, pre-pandemic.

And yes, there’s a Zoom meeting/discussion about COVID-19 and the country’s response to it, shoehorned in as a seventh episode of what must have been planned as a six episode series.

But the framework, the top tier of thinkers, activists, scientists and politicians discussing poverty, gender violence, drugs and environmental catastrophe at multi-course sit-down dinners prepared by Mexico’s finest chefs? What the hell was he thinking?

Amazon has produced a slick, shiny and topical docu-talk show that could very be the most elitist program in the history of Mexico.

I’m not sure of the order the programs will appear in on Amazon’s menu, as the preview copies of all the shows were mislabeled when sent to me. But “#NiUnamas (Not One More),” is so shockingly tone-deaf you’d think the guy signed on for a musical without taking singing lessons.

A wealthy, famous actor hosting six women — activists, a rapper, a mother of a “femicide” victim, government and NGO officials — in a discussion of Mexico’s culturally entrenched mistreatment, sexualization, dismissal, abuse and violence against women, just plays…wrong.

The discussion itself, intercut with clips of TV news coverage of protests and murders, the silly presentations of women in film and on TV (weather forecast stripteases and the like), is far ranging, pointed and civil. But over the course of three courses, and 40 minutes, you have to wonder “What’s the point?”

And that’s the least elite panel of the seven that Luna gathers. The rest of the series, underscored by free form jazz drumming, has a President of Colombia and others fairly high up the ladder talking about the social fabric fraying that leads to a decades-long “war on drugs,” which the panel generally agrees (in Spanish, with English subtitles) “has been lost.”

The chat, peppered with statistical graphics and illustrative video of slums, climate catastrophes, abortion, “round trip migrants,” drug violence and the like, is generally enlightened, if limited in scope. And then there’s a chef — Enrique Olvera, Alexander Suástegui — serving up another course and describing the molé or what have you as she or he does.

It’s jarring and grating at the same time.

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The effect is not unlike the first time you run into any TV series from another culture. You try to approach it on that culture’s level, recognize the different values, ways of thinking and approach. The production values are sparkling, the amount of information packed into each show’s opening (narrated by Luna) impresses.

But then Luna’s pal and sometime co-star Gael García Bernal shows up for the dinner panel on drugs, and you just throw up your hands.

The only way this could be more ridiculous is if George Clooney was hosting, and invited Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt to talk about climate change and sustainability while visiting the finest restaurants of say, Italy.

Rich Latin elites solve Mexico’s problems over 40 minute chats eating haute cuisine — WTF TV.

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MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Diego Luna, Zara Snapp, Juan Manuel Santos, Elena Reygadas, Enrique Olvera, Alexander Suástegui, Gael García Bernal many others

Credits: Created by Diego Luna, directed by Greg Allen. An Amazon series.

Running time: Seven episodes @ :38 minutes each.

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