Just finished the third season of Narcos on Netflix this week, which was about the rise and fall of the Cali cartel. I was trying to figure out exactly why I enjoyed it so much; I think it was that it was so grittily realistic.
The staggering amounts of wealth that the various heads of the cartel accumulated gave the show a slight air of unreality, but the fact is that the cartel did control immense amounts of money. (A realistic drama about a small time marijuana dealer would, admittedly, hold less appeal.)
Beyond that, the women acted like women; there were no Angelina Jolies beating up men twice their size. The hotheads acted like hotheads, and the politicians acted like politicians.
Not everybody on the police force was good -- corruption in Colombia at that time was extremely pervasive. And not everybody on the side of the cartel was a sociopath; some people just get drawn into that life though circumstance.
And the education was enjoyable. Most of us are familiar with Pablo Escobar, and the fabulous wealth and power he amassed. But most of us also couldn't name a single member of the Cali cartel. And almost every major character in Narcos was based on a real person. (They would occasionally intersperse actual film clips of the real people into the dramatization.)
The actors actually looked like the the people they were supposed to represent, and not glamorized Hollywood versions of those people.
Even the two characters we're supposed to identify with most closely, the American DEA agent and a cartel security man who wants to leave the cartel, are pretty ordinary-looking guys.
Narcos also showed the government, even at the highest levels, to be corrupt -- just as it was.
And it showed how US politics were played: decisions by the US weren't based on who was corrupt and who wasn't, but rather by who was on our side. That added to the gritty realism as well.
The third season stands on its own, though you'd be better off with the background of the first two seasons, which focused on Pablo Escobar.