For most, Gomorrah is a biblical city so wicked that God torched it with fire, or it sounds just like the name of Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned assassin in Guardians of the Galaxy. But in Italy, Gomorrah is something else: a blockbuster TV series inspired by Roberto Saviano’s renowned nonfiction tome of the same name about Italy’s powerful, secretive drug-running Camorra crime clan. Season 1 comes to America via SundanceTV, and the appeal is easy to see. It’s a strikingly realistic serial suffused with tragic melodrama, specific to its culture but universal in themes, shot with extraordinary cinematic panache. If you can roll with subtitles, you’ll find it immediately addictive.
With his brooding eyes and bullet-bald head, Marco D’Amore is utterly charismatic as Ciro, a hard-boiled, quietly conflicted enforcer in the Savastano crime family. He’s nicknamed “The Immortal” due to his ability to dodge death, a double-edged gift that saves and damns him.
The action-packed premiere, in which the Savastanos escalate an ongoing war with a rival gang, sinks you into a mostly nocturnal world. The second episode sinks deeper into Ciro and other characters — paranoid, increasingly mad Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino); his entitled, fragile heir, Genny (Salvatore Esposito) — without breaking stride. The show turns present-day Naples into an oppressive hell, a concrete jungle of dehumanizing mega-structures, decadent compounds, mean streets, and squalid underpasses. The exquisite cinematography is most brilliant at night; the storytelling stays clear even while swamping us in murk. There’s no romance of evil here, only soul-killing despair, yet you find yourself deeply invested in Ciro’s survival and wishing for a glimmer of hope in a world devoid of it. A-
Gomorrah premieres Aug. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on SundanceTV.