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Pity the thugs of Gang Related — it ain’t easy making a dishonest living when the fuzz don’t play by the rules. The officers of L.A.’s Gang Task Force fight crime with a ruthlessness that would make Jack Bauer scowl upside down with pride. They plant evidence, torture for intel, and let dogs maul the bad guys out of spite. Not only do they enjoy ”doing wrong to make a right,” but they want you to get off on it, too. ”That was awesome! Was it good for you?” asks one cop following an explosive car chase. ”Bro, don’t make it weird,” quips his partner. Gang Related peddles the same righteous nihilism that marks The Blacklist and True Detective — post-procedural crime-time policiers depicting Law as an annoying impediment to Order and Justice as an utterly subjective concept. In other words, it’s kinda like The Shield (showrunner Scott Rosenbaum’s other cop drama), but not nearly as good.
Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez, an effective synthesis of sensitivity and steel) embodies the worldview of Gang Related in intriguing fashion. He’s an undercover cop — except he’s working for the felonious familia who raised him. Yet Ryan isn’t wholly corrupt. His appealing complexity is such that he’s committed to protecting both his family and the public — and he actually expects the former to understand.
Clan Acosta initially comes off as a pack of weak-sauce Corleones. Javier (Cliff Curtis) is the Don; Carlos (Rey Gallegos) is the hotheaded Sonny; Daniel (Jay Hernandez) is the legitimacy-seeking Michael. Ryan, then, would be Tom Hagen, the orphan raised to do their legal dirty work. But after four episodes, I either began suffering from Stockholm syndrome or sincerely began caring for them. Ditto Ryan’s cop family, distinguished by race, which the show utilizes more to make story — i.e., chase after gangs of various stripes — than to make its characters more interesting. RZA fares better than most at bringing some personality to his Black Gangs Specialist. (Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn, as the task-force leader, can do this role in his sleep, and looks intent on proving it.)
Rosenbaum works to get the details right, such as the proper way to remove a syringe when a junkie stabs you with it, but the show is all neat research and solid performances in search of better writing and plotlines. Clunky dialogue, clichéd relationships, and an escapist action-flick aesthetic combine to subvert the ambition for gritty realism. It requires stronger vision and voice, as well as more distance; it can’t decide whether to be likable or prickly. Either way: far from ”awesome.” C+