Gang Related Series Premiere Review: Muck the Police
When a network orders a cop drama in May 2013 but doesn't air it until late May 2014, does that make the show part of the new year-round scheduling strategy that lots of networks seem to be adopting? Or is it a dump-off because the network knows the show isn't going to succeed? In the case of Gang Related, it's kind of both.
The new Fox drama combines flashy camera-shaking foot sprints through back alleys on gang turf, cops shouting at tattooed thugs while bending their fingers backward or tazing their testicles, and clichés, lots and lots and lots of clichés. It's the same formula that ensures action movies will become blockbusters while receiving lukewarm reviews from stuffy film critics. Gang Related will never win an Emmy—but it doesn't appear to be trying to. It just wants to shoot off a thousand rounds and say things like, "You're right, you don't know me, where I'm from, or what I'm capable of," while holding a red-hot bolt that's part of some silly gang initiation. There's plenty of room on television for this kind of mindless entertainment (see: 24), and Gang Related fits well within that groove.
Set in a hyper-real, near-apocalyptic version of present-day Los Angeles that's infested with gangs armed to their hairnets with high-powered automatic rifles—and where epic shootouts between cops and street soldiers are as common as traffic on the 110—Gang Related tells the story of one Ryan Lopez (Charlie's Angels' Roman Rodriguez). Ryan is a member of the LAPD's Gang Task Force, and he's got a dirty little secret: He's actually a plant for the Latino gang Los Angelicos! See, he was raised by Javier Acosta, the leader of the gang, and Javier asked him to climb the LAPD ladder as an inside man. But, as the pilot's opening chase sequence revealed, he's also a good cop who busts gang members? There's your internal conflict, folks. Ryan must balance doing the right thing for the po-po while also doing right by his familia. "It's a dangerous tightrope I'm walking here, Javier," Ryan said, as if we hadn't already picked up on that. Or maybe he was just spelling things out for viewers who'd just came back from the bathroom? (Although that's probably not the case, as this is the kind of show that isn't too diminished by multiple trips to take a whiz.)
Preferring the rat-a-tat-tat of bullets bursting forth from gun barrels to the calculated steps of actual police work, Gang Related's pilot was rife with fortunate happenstances that allowed Ryan (and whoever his new partner ended up being) to avoid boring detective work and skip right to the next chase sequence or showdown. Ryan and his drunk partner Tanner (R.I.P. dude, you never stood a chance) went after a tagger who just so happened to be outside of a warehouse where an important gang meet-up was taking place? Okay. Ryan and fellow cop Cassius (the RZA) found gay porn on a computer owned by one of Cassius's criminal informants and used it as leverage so the guy would spill the beans? Sure. On Gang Related, case details are secondary to creeping around a dark corridor with a gun drawn or shoving a gang member's face into a chain-link fence. And I'm okay with that!
Though it was almost entirely predictable, the pilot's closest thing to a shocker was the scene where, immediately after saving Javier's pit bull of a son Carlos from the cops, Ryan signed Carlos's death certificate by ratting him out to a rival gang as payback for killing Ryan's partner. Several members of the Long Beach Lords rode up on Carlos and shredded him to pieces while Ryan looked on, and we were left wondering exactly who this Ryan fella is. Is he a good cop who's been forced into working for a gang, or is he a gang plant who's working as a dirty cop? That's the big question Gang Related wants us to ponder. Unfortunately for the show, the question of Ryan's potentially complicated character is reduced to a simple answer: He's both! Whichever fits the writers' needs.
But who cares, right? As long as there are car chases and shootouts, stock characters, and terrible dialogue, Gang Related is delivering on its promise to provide silly entertainment and nothing more. Muzzled by the confines of network television, Gang Related will never reach the heights of The Shield or Southland. But it comes at a time when television is polluted with serial killers and CIA agents, so I'd still rather watch a whole season of Gang Related than a single episode of The Following.
POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS (UNLESS YOU WANT TO READ SOME NOTES)
– Nice reference to the Wu-Tang Clan by naming the high-grade cocaine "Fishscale," which, though it was already a nickname for cocaine, was also the name of Ghostface Killah's popular album.
– What kind of drug deal goes down in the middle of a racetrack? That doesn't look suspicious at all, guys.
– How many times throughout the series do you think we'll see Ryan be the first man on the scene or the first guy to catch an escaping crook so that he can play the gang side before his cop friends show up?
– I've already screened the next two episodes of Gang Related and I can tell you that it's more of the same, but with some extra side stories that are intended give supporting characters something to do. Hot cop Vee's plot in particular is a real groaner.
– Speaking of Vee, what did you think of the scene where she tazed that guy's nuts and then he peed his pants?
– I love how Ryan literally spelled out a screenwriting device after the Gang Task Force figured out when the coke deal was going down: "Which means we have a ticking clock."
– With the line, "Thanks to these two jokers, we took eight chino-skins off the chessboard today," Terry O'Quinn has officially neutralized the potency of his famous Lost line, "Don't tell me what I can't do."
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