If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, then the plot for Gang Related may sound a little familiar. Ryan Lopez is a detective for L.A.’s elite Gang Task Force leading a double life as an actual member of the Los Angelicos, a powerful Latino gang. It all makes a little more sense, though, when you hear about Ryan’s backstory and how gang leader Javier Acosta took him under his wing when he was younger, only now to mastermind Ryan’s entry into the force to protect la familia. A predictable moral dilemma arises for Ryan about which side of the law he really should be on, and thus begins the series.
Well, almost. Though the plot is simple enough, it requires a lot of explanation and backstory that would be better suited for a film than just an opening flashback. We are quickly shown how, at a young age, Ryan became protected by Acosta, but it’s up to the audience to really figure out the full reason why. The premiere had some promising action sequences that you would expect from a show like this, and created by the guy who wrote Fast Five, but takes a long time to really set up the driving action for the rest of the episodes. Not that they should be in any rush, but the creators should have given the audience a little more credit for their intelligence and not have to overdramatize or explain every decision Ryan struggles to make around his two lives. You’ll have to watch to the very last moment of the premiere to finally begin to see inside Ryan’s head and start to believe he could even have a bad side.
In a weird way, then, star Ramon Rodriguez is the best and the worst thing about the show. Rodriguez, known for his work in films like Battle Los Angeles and Need for< Speed, is definitely comfortable taking on the conflicted protagonist role. However, if you look at the world in simple terms of good and bad, Rodriguez seems too good to play bad, or at least from the pilot. I had a hard time understanding why a smart guy like that would stay in such a predicament at first, as both Ryan the character and Ramon the actor deserve better writing to deal with the struggles of this inner-conflict. And his police buddies only make him look better. Terry O’Quinn, for instance, is playing every police-captain cliche you can think of. There is potential in developing these relationships between Ryan and his real co-workers, including Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as another Task Force member, but the pilot jumps the gun too quickly in trying to show that this team has been working together for a long time. Instead, it just kind of confuses the whole situation more.
Good thing Gang Related is on during the summer. It’ll take a big investment to follow the show and characters each week, because the series already tries to start with a lot of action from the beginning. The problem with the pilot is a problem that many first episodes of series have: too much exposition and not enough explanation. If you find some sort of emotional connection to Ryan, then you may want to give the show another chance to see what ends up happening. If you don’t, then there may not be much left for you. When more than one person is shot in the pilot, it’s definitely a sign that it will be a bloody show for sure. The show succeeds, though, in creating situations where at one point you are sympathizing with the victim, and the next you are cheering on the killer. It’s almost as if we are inside Ryan’s head and his lack of complete awareness of what is right and what is wrong and who to trust. I may be wrong in giving the show another try, but there are a lot of ways it can still go right, and Rodriguez’s vulnerable portrayal of a strong man shows that this guy has the potential to be a breakout star – if the show is able to break out of its problems.