TV Review - Gang Related

Terry O'Quinn (left), Sung Kang, RZA
and Ramon Rodriguez (right) in "Gang Related"
Of course, this series is the result of The Shield and Homeland having a baby. It's a child of that FX series in that it's focused on the drug gangs of East Los Angeles and a specified task force out to fight them with Jay Karnes from The Shield guest starring. It's a child of that Showtime series in that it's focused on a man with divided loyalties. He's pulled between working for the good guys and working for the bad guy. The only difference is that this series wants the audience to sympathize with the so-called bad guy, at least more so than the terrorists in Homeland.

Ramon Rodriguez stars as Ryan Lopez, a detective with the LAPD. He's assigned to take down Javier Acosta, played by Cliff Curtis. Javier is the head of a Mexican drug gang known as Los Angelicos. Ryan is secretly Javier's adopted son. Javier took Ryan in as a little boy and he and his wife raised Ryan as their own. Javier encouraged Ryan to enter the police force ultimately to be a mole or double agent. Ryan's undercover job is mainly to feed information about the police's actions to Javier. He does so usually after hopping on his motorcycle in his slick biker jacket and jetting off.

Terry O'Quinn plays Sam Chapel, the leader of the Gang Task Force or GTF and Ryan's boss at the LAPD. Unlike most characters in cop shows, Sam is more involved, meaning during raids or even shootouts, he's on the front lines, sometimes right along side Ryan.

His team includes Cassius, played by RZA, another in a long line of rappers-turned-actors playing cops. Ice-T plays a cop on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Ice Cube played a cop in Ride Along and 21 Jump Street. Will Smith played a cop in Bad Boys and I, Robot. Tupac Shakur played a cop in Gang Related (1997), a crime story of no relation to this series. RZA isn't as good an actor as Shakur though.

Rounding out Sam's team is Tae Kim, played by Sung Kang (Fast & Furious), and Veronica Dotsen, played by Inbar Lavi. Not a lot is revealed about Dotsen in the first four episodes, but Dotsen is thrown a monkey wrench when her character is exposed to HIV and AIDS thanks to a dirty needle. How that will affect her police work going forward might be interesting to explore.

Created by Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious and 47 Ronin), the fundamental question is how long can Ryan continue to work for both sides of the law and when are his partners and boss at the LAPD going to discover the truth. The seeds have already been planted for the secret to come out soon. Depending on Morgan's timetable, he can't stretch it out indefinitely. Given what's happened so far, he might go the way of Homeland and expose the secret in Season 2. He might be able to delay longer due to the case-of-the-week and police procedural fall-back that it can do.

My fear is the show will spin its wheels until that secret is exposed with Ryan walking through outrageous case after outrageous case like the human sex trafficking of Episode 4. It gives Ryan and the show something to do other than pursue Javier, which is a case that would naturally have hot and cold moments. Episode 4 and 5 are clearly cold moments, so the focus is taken off Javier. Yet, the show is boring when it does so.

Lorenzo Eduardo as J-Dub (left) and uncredited actor
have a same-sex wedding in "Gang Related"
The pilot episode was directed by Allen Hughes (Menace II Society and The Book of Eli). It doesn't have the same punch as the pilot to The Shield, directed by Clark Johnson, but the ending does have a moment that is similar to the ending of the pilot to The Shield. The follow-up in Episode 2 was great in which the show did something surprising. It had RZA's character presiding over a same-sex wedding between two big, black, gay men. One of which is J-Dub, played by Lorenzo Eduardo. Strangely, the show was able to tie it to the main case.

Yet, the show topped itself in Episode 3. Javier has two sons. Daniel Acosta, played by Jay Hernandez, is more clean-cut. He wears nice suits like his father and is more involved with the legitimate business side. Javier's other son is Carlos Acosta, played by Rey Gallegos. Carlos is more of the traditional thug who works the streets and handles things on the criminal side. Carlos is paralyzed in a drive-by shooting and Episode 3 deals with his paralysis in an honest way, even down to how the colostomy bag is connected. It's powerful stuff that you almost wouldn't expect from a cop show but Gallegos and Curtis are great together.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DLV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 9PM on FOX.


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