Youth bolsters a certain amount of invincibility. For young people, there’s almost an embedded assurance that their dreams are bound to come true. Netflix‘s latest series “Neon,” created by Shea Serrano and Max Searle, follows a trio of best friends in their early 20s who leave their hometown of Ft. Myers, Florida, for Miami’s lush beaches and glitzy nightlife, determined to make it big. Glossy and fun, the reggaeton-centered “Neon” puts the viewer in the mind of “Rap Sh!t” without the grit framing the Issa Rae-created show. It’s a series about friendship, determination and the perils of the modern-day music industry.
The Gen Z-centered series opens on a highway. Ness (Emma Ferreira), an aspiring talent manager, is speeding along the open Florida road; her besties, up-and-coming reggaeton artist Santi (Tyler Dean Flores), whose new song “Exagaro” has gone viral and Felix (Jordan Mendoza), Santi’s creative director, in tow. After years of dreaming, the threesome has finally secured a lunch meeting with BPM record label executive Mia (Courtney Taylor) and taken the plunge to move to the energetic coastal city.
Despite Ness’ meticulous plans, which include a shiny new apartment, signing a record deal and launching all three of their careers, from the moment they arrive in Miami, things don’t quite go as planned. At every turn, the trio is humbled, dismissed and pushed aside. While some of the storylines in “Neon” lean toward the generic, including an ill-fated performance at a nightclub and Santi’s orchestrated media relationship with a self-absorbed pop star, Isa (Genesis Rodriguez), other plot points steady the flow of the series, keeping the eight-episode first season on beat.
In addition to an array of highly comical sequences, including a music video for a grocery store jingle and a scene mirroring the iconic floating scene in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” “Neon” tackles some complicated subjects. They include the importance of reggaeton to the Latino community, sexism and nepotism in the music industry, financial woes and the consequences of intertwining lifelong friendships with personal goals.
Utilizing Santi, Felix, Ness and Mia’s varied interests in the entertainment business, the show illustrates the vulnerability and boldness needed to ensure your aspirations come true. Self-confidence is one thing, but repeatedly picking yourself up after being disrespected requires a different kind of tenacity. This determination often separates those who eventually succeed from others who tuck their ambitions away for a simpler path.
When business dealings are thrown in the mix, personal relationships can easily be twisted and mangled into something ugly. However, “Neon” presents an authentic display of friendship that goes well beyond surface-level bonds. Even amid differences and arguments, the love among the old friends remains obvious. One of the most endearing scenes in the series occurs in the Season 1 finale, “The Reality.” The episode opens with a flashback that displays the deep trust Santi, Ness, and Felix have always had. “Neon” also examines what it feels like to be alone amid your dreams when the people you trust the most are no longer present to serve as anchors in your life.
Even with the series’ compelling themes, some storylines, including a “Queen of the South”-type crime lord and a pop star’s gag-inducing aversion to salmon, lead toward the absurd. Also, since virality is no longer an anomaly, the viewer is asked to suspend a certain amount of disbelief regarding the rapid pacing of Santi’s career breakthroughs. It’s not likely that a burgeoning artist would cross paths with idols like Daddy Yankee, who happens to be an executive producer on the show (along with embattled mogul Scooter Braun). Many musicians have talent in spades. However, it often takes more than just a bit of luck to stand out in an overcrowded business whose audience has an attention span rivaling a sugar-fueled toddler.
Though “Neon” leans into predictability at times, the performances by the core four — especially Taylor’s Mia and Ferreira’s Ness, the easy flow between Spanish and English, as well as the electric beats and catchy lyrics from executive music producers Tainy, Lex Borrero and Ivan Rodriguez collectively known as Tainy & One Six, present a highly enjoyable series. “Neon” thoroughly immerses the audience in this enticing world while highlighting an industry that might only be saved by those who love the music most.
“Neon” premieres on Netflix Oct. 19.