Every mobster/drug lord/Hand of the King worth his salt inevitably justifies his murderous tendencies with self-righteous devotion to family. And though some modern series have been willing to explore the hypocrisy of such nonsense, others just roll with it.
"Gang Related," which premieres Thursday, rolls with so many stereotypes and tropes it clanks. Or would do if it weren't so buried in gunfire/mood music.
Fox's new cops 'n' mobsters drama pretends to examine the subtleties that can lie between right and wrong, between loyalty and self-delusion. But mainly it just wallows in the cynical act of moral manipulation with a lot of loose ends, a high body count and some regrettable racial overtones.
Ramon Rodriguez stars as Ryan Lopez, the latest incarnation of the Haunted Policeman. Except Lopez is not battling a drinking or anger problem, or the death of a loved one. No, he's just a traitor, the adoptive son of gang leader Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis) who has somehow "put" Ryan in the LAPD's elite Gang Task Force for the purpose of "protecting the family."
How an elite task force could overlook a well-known mobster's adoptive son, especially one who is constantly dropping by said mobster's house, is just one of many potholes the narrative careens over on its way to the next shootout and/or "conflicting loyalties" scene.
For our man Ryan is sincere in his desire to be a good cop, even while he's thwarting justice by texting crucial intel to Javier, who continually reassures him that the family is but one big score away from going legitimate.
Apparently, the words "Michael Corleone" mean nothing to Ryan Lopez.
Strange, considering how much "Gang Related" owes to the various "Godfather" films, with their loyalty issues, ambient scenes of family gatherings and ruthless but "loving" patriarchs. There are three Acosta sons: Ryan, "good" son Daniel (Jay Hernandez), who serves as the family corporate counsel, and "bad" son, Carlos (Rey Gallegos) who, as the family's most honest member, is a straight-up thug.
Indeed, mere minutes into the pilot, Carlos has gunned down Ryan's partner. This makes Ryan Very Upset. Not upset enough to, you know, arrest Carlos but upset enough to wonder if being a mobster snitch is a great idea. See, the GTF, headed by Sam Chapel (Terry O'Quinn, alas) has also become something of a family to Ryan, and now he has to protect them too.
Unfortunately, a conceit that is supposed to make Ryan appear genuinely torn by opposing forces just makes him look spineless, amoral and a little stupid. And as attractive as Rodriguez may be, he cannot pull Ryan above the regrettable characteristics bestowed upon him by the show's creative team.
Although there may be legitimate cause for complaint among Latino and black viewers — "Brown is the new black," Javier says, preparing to torture a rival gang member while managing to insult not one but two groups of Americans — the cynicism of "Gang Related" extends far beyond race.
Hip-hop artist Rza does a nice job as Ryan's new partner, Cassius, and Inbar Lavi makes the most of her obligatory Kick-ass Female Cop role, but task force members are nowhere near as fleshed out as the gangsters in early episodes; it's the trials of the Acosta family that are supposed to humanize Ryan's dilemma.
But honestly, who cares about a family of drug-dealing cop killers?
In one early episode, Chapel views a half dozen gang-banger corpses and says "at least no humans were killed."
A cold-hearted sentiment that quickly spreads to the entire show.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday