Fox has finally put on a drama about a big, boisterous Latino family. It’s just too bad that they have to be murderous drug dealers. Clearly deriving some of its narrative hooks from “The Godfather” saga, “Gang Related” is a dense serial about loyalty and betrayal, but without enough redeeming qualities to offset its high quotient of ugliness and mayhem. Built around a fatherless boy drawn into a drug cartel and a surrogate father who insists he wants to go legit, the series has strong players, but also suffers an uneven assortment of characters, and can’t escape the more distasteful aspect of a Latino cop who is, in fact, working for the bad guys.
That would be Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez), introduced as a young boy whose toughness impresses the local drug bigwig Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis, easily the show’s most compelling figure). Flash forward, and Ryan has gone into the military and won a spot on a hard-charging drug taskforce, the better to leak information to Acosta, whose two biological sons include corporate brains (Jay Hernandez) and hot-tempered brawn (Rey Gallegos).
Faster than you can say “Take the gun, leave the cannolis,” Ryan is out on the streets, chasing down hoods in frenetic action sequences. But one needn’t be a genius to anticipate that his first partner probably isn’t going to last long, or that Ryan is going to be conflicted as he’s pressed to act on “the family’s” behalf, even as he continues to impress his boss (Terry O’Quinn, in a role he’s seemingly played a half-dozen times before), who has made clear he wants to get tough on the gangs.
Taking an unfortunate page from Fox’s “The Following,” “Gang Related” almost revels in a level of carnage where life is decidedly cheap, and the bad guys, drawn into a turf war, think nothing of shooting up whole neighborhoods. That includes few second-thoughts about opening fire on cops, who, for their part, appear to have rewritten the rule book back to the pre-Miranda era.
The racially diverse unit of which Ryan is a part doesn’t fully compensate for the sheer weight of black and brown scumbags sprayed across the screen, especially since the criminals, with rare exceptions, have more depth than the law.
Fox no doubt thinks the heavily Latino cast (and a fair amount of dialogue is in Spanish, with English subtitles) will be attractive to a bilingual audience, but the tradeoff is the extent to which the series traffics in unattractive stereotypes, especially given the relative dearth of positive portrayals of Hispanic family life in primetime.
Then again, one suspects there’s a good chance such criticisms eventually will be moot. Because while premiering during summer somewhat mitigates ratings pressure, it also enhances the likelihood that “Gang Related” is the kind of offer most can refuse.