The main trio also lacks emotional stakes, with none of them getting a meaningful or emotionally resonant arc until the end. Before that, their concerns are largely getting into the next party and polishing Santi’s ego. Instead, Mia (Courtney Taylor), as the band’s maybe record-label connection, makes real sacrifices and takes real risks. But she’s outside the core group, and so her journey just makes the central three seem more paltry. Everyone else is just playing, and it’s hard to care.
The comedy doesn’t help. While some elements, like a remixed grocery store jingle, are legitimately funny, a lot isn’t. For example, there’s an ongoing gag where Santi gets distracted because, as he puts it, some attractive young woman “wants to have sex with me.” The naming here is supposed to be funny with its bluntness and no-frill execution. But without exploring Santi’s actual escapades (how exactly does he get them in bed? What are the women’s motivations?), the whole thing is like a teenager fantasizing about casual sex and not the thing itself.
Santi does get a real love interest in Celeste (Alycia Pascual-Pena). But what makes her different from the others is impossible to know since we see so little of them, another way that particular choice undercuts the potential emotional resonance later on.
That’s a recurring pattern of “Neon,” which sets up a lot in its first season but doesn’t deliver on much of it. It’s not just the romance; a cartel plot gets an episode or two but then fizzles out without warning. Likewise, a trip to Art Basel allows the show to lampoon the fine art world but narratively feels like it’s just taking up space. The first two-thirds of the show is like this: introducing arcs and then dropping them without resolution.
It’s not until Santi hooks up with Isa (Genesis Rodriguez having a great time), a fictional, famous pop star, that any sort of plot establishes itself. But they meet in episode six. So even though Isa’s machinations power the finale (and set up for a second season if there is one), it’s too little too late.
“Neon” is a series of jokes, rhythms, and points with no guiding anchor. It’s a lot of things, but excellent is not one of them. And that’s a shame, especially as reggaeton continues its global dominance; we will need more shows and films depicting its particular culture and cadence. Here’s hoping that studio execs don’t take “Neon” as the end all, be all of the tales of the sound.
The whole season was screened for review. “Neon” is on Netflix now.