Is it possible to be loyal to two very different sides of the law and still stay sane? What happens when you’re required to choose a side? Will people understand when the truth does come out? That’s part of the premise behind the new Fox show “Gang Related,” which showed how one man was caught between two opposite worlds and is forced to live in both. Unfortunately, the show’s familiar premise hasn’t offered many new twists to a story that has been done before repeatedly on the big and small screens in various degrees.
“Gang Related” followed Detective Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez) who did his very best to put some of Los Angeles’ worst criminals behind at great expense to his own personal safety. He worked so hard that he impressed his superiors that he was placed in a special assignment with the LAPD Gang Task Force to work out destroying some of the city’s worst gangs before they corrupt everything around them. The task force was full of officers from various agencies in an effort to share information in a timely manner. Lopez also relied heavily on his equally devoted partner as they captured dangerous criminals. Sadly, one criminal ended up getting the best of Lopez’s partner and he died as a result of it, but Lopez could’ve stopped him if he wasn’t afraid of his true motives being exposed. He was working as a cop, and as a mole for the Acosta crime family who funneled them information when it pertained to them. Lopez was taken in by the head of the crime family, Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis) when he was a young boy and was raised as a member of the family. He was raised alongside Acosta’s sons Dante (Jay Hernandez) and Carlos (Reynaldo Gallegos), even though he was never truly an equal. Dante was a regular businessman who saw Lopez as a friend, but he could turn into an enemy when Dante’s fiancée turned to Lopez in a time of need. Carlos, on the other hand, embraced his father’s criminal lifestyle and was the one that killed Lopez’s partner. He also held a grudge against Lopez that blow everything sky high if he was arrested for the crime. He also had to contend with his boss Sam Chapel (Terry O’Quinn) and his colleagues from finding out the truth, but his worst threat could come from Sam’s daughter, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Chapel (Shantel VanSanten). She was already suspicious of Lopez, but any new evidence could put him right in her crosshairs if he wasn’t too careful. Will Lopez be able to maintain his double life or will it catch up with him?
In terms of questions, the biggest one that remained was whether the show could truly have to staying power to make past the first season. Based on the series premiere, the answer was a rather uncertain one because the episode offered very little in the way of true plot twists. Most of the storylines have been told before in movies (“Scarface,” “Donnie Brasco,” and “The Godfather”) too many times to count. Rodriguez’s Lopez seemed to be based on parts of “Donnie Brasco” told in reverse with him pretending to be a good cop to get information. His character was supposed to have a dilemma of being a criminal and a cop at the same time, but Lopez was straddling both a little too easily. The premiere offered very little in the way of tension, even though a preview of upcoming episodes indicated that will likely change very soon. It also didn’t help that the show’s uneven tone didn’t offer much in the way of true credibility to give viewers some form of perspective as to what future episodes will be like. The premiere bounced around between a Wild West shootout in Los Angeles and a morality play that didn’t demonstrate much in the way of morality. The biggest casualty on the show was O’Quinn’s Chapel who seemed like he was there simply for the paycheck. O’Quinn seemed to be basing his relaxed approach to the character that Edward James Olmos played on “Miami Vice,” except that O’Quinn looked like he’d rather be elsewhere. His obvious disinterest made Chapel’s one major outburst barely register before and after the scene passed. Let’s hope that O’Quinn’s character will get a chance to shine, or show interest in whatever is happening on-screen. Maybe, a confrontation with Curtis’ Acosta might do the trick. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, the show’s premiere seemed to belong to Curtis and RZA for various reasons as they seemed to provides the episode’s tension and a few moments of brief levity amidst all of the violent shootouts. Curtis’ Acosta was a crime boss who got to the top by being subtle and direct at the same time. The character didn’t outright display his propensity towards violence until it was absolutely necessary to do so. Curtis’ first scene displayed his character as a man of kindness, which he was able to do to lure an impressionable Lopez into becoming a member of his crime family. He embodied Acosta as a character with a sense of morality in a world of violence and corruption that was often hidden in his sleek designer suits, but that all changed when he needed to shed his suit of armor literally. One memorable scene had Curtis’ character changing out his suit in order to torture a rival criminal into giving him the proper information he needed to succeed in a business deal. He allowed the character to subtly switch from kind benefactor to malicious crime boss within the blink of an eye, which is no small feat. The show would’ve been more interesting if Curtis and O’Quinn were the main draws, because the tension was based with their two characters more than the rest of the cast. Curtis also had a decent rapport with Rodriguez, but it would be much more fascinating to see once Curtis’ character finds out that Lopez had his son attacked by a rival gang. RZA, on the other hand, had the challenge of trying to bring comic relief to some dark situations. His character, DEA Agent Cassius Green, was paired with Rodriguez’s character on an assignment and he was able to get the character to smile by singing rather loudly to an Al Green song. Let’s hope that the show uses RZA’s character more as a way to rack up even more tension for the main character as the season progressed that way the show could have a chance at a second one.
"Gang Related" premiered on May 22nd and airs Thursdays at 9:00 PM on Fox
Verdict: The show's premiere managed to showcase a high level of violence and standard Hollywood plot stereotypes. Future episodes would need to rack up the tension between the characters to keep viewers interested.
TV Score: 2 out of 5 stars