As the old joke goes: “You don’t have to be an idiot to laugh at a fart joke, but you DO have to be an idiot NOT to laugh at a fart joke.”
In the new Fox series, Gang Related, they don’t say ‘fart’, they say ‘pass gas’. That’s right, badass cops investigating horrendous drug crimes won’t say ‘fart’.
Network television tells you what America thinks. Hardened law enforcement officials battling Mexican Narco-Thugs will torture a man by electrocuting his scrotum with a Taser but they never, ever swear.
I’m going to try Gang Related for a half dozen episodes. Why, if there’s no fart jokes? Well, it’s essentially The Departed (2002) for TV.
The Departed was the second of Martin Scorsese’s serious career missteps after Gangs of New York. We can argue about The Age of Innocence and The Aviator some other time.
During the screening of The Gangs of New York I spent my time productively by mentally making my Christmas shopping list. It’s a comically bad film made from a tremendous book.
Read it! Herbert Asbury wrote The Gangs of New York in 1928; it’s gritty non-fiction; has dozens of amazing old photos and drawings from a pre-mugshot era; and a gallery of eccentrics, heroes and villains.
Then Scorsese doubled down on the stupid with The Departed. His man-crush on DiCaprio deepened and he took another great original source – the Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs – and made us pay to watch him spank it while he whispered, “Leonardo-o-o-o-o-OH!”
Sure, it’s a modern film buff foible to praise the original Asian or Scandinavian version of a Hollywood remake. In this case it just happens to be 100% true.
Gang Related takes the premise of The Departed and transfers it to LA Latino street gangs. Ryan Lopez, a pre-teen Cholo, is groomed to be a deep undercover mole for a prominent drug lord.
Lopez spends years faking a solid citizen background. He serves two tours in Afghanistan, joins the LAPD and blossoms into an heroic and decorated officer. The whole time he is feeding crucial police intel to the Acosta crime family.
Cue schizophrenic life and moral dilemmas – about five per episode.
Now, having dumped a hefty enchilada poo all over this new series, it has a lot going for it, visually, and a potentially decent cast.
Los Angeles is a deep burnt orange battleground. Everyone seems to have access to landmines, demolition charges, and the kind of machine guns that can cut a truck in half.
Sometimes, Herr Doktor Freud, a gun is not a penis. In the case of Gang Related, however, it’s definitely a low swingin’ Ron Jeremy appendage.
The action is double-barrelled from the first frame and very reminiscent of Heat (1995), the Michael Mann heist classic. Lots of speeding vehicle and firefight choreography. I suspect they may come to count on it.
Any gang related TV series – especially if it calls itself Gang Related – will have to live up to The Shield. So, good luck with that.
Terry O’Quinn (Lost, The X-Files) is always rock solid. He plays the necessary gruff police captain with a heart of marshmallow. Jay Karnes – a cast member of The Shield and later Sons of Anarchy – rolls up at the end of the pilot episode as a sleazy FBI agent.
Then, the RZA! Yep, the gangster-rappin’ leader of the Wu-Tang Clan is now The Man, po-po, 5-0, the pigs, the fuzz. Until now he’s had walk-ons and bit parts in second-rate fare like G.I. Joe: Retaliation, nine eps of Californication and straight-to-DVD nonsense like Tom Yum Goong 2.
The RZA is the cast member who calls farting ‘passing gas’. Thug 4 Eva.
Gang Related bears an uncanny resemblance to any of the Fast & Furious franchise flicks because the show creator, Chris Morgan, also wrote and directed every one of those, let’s say, ‘automotive fantasies’.
Worth noting that Brian Grazer heads up the creative team with Scott Rosenbaum, who also produced The Shield.
Apollo 13 (1995), A Beautiful Mind (2001), Frost/Nixon (2008) – Grazer has the Hollywood credentials. For TV, Grazer had me with Arrested Development, and I’m told that there are people who consider some of his other projects like Friday Night Lights to be watchable and not execrable.
At the moment Grazer is fronting Gang Related plus the just-finished Those Who Kill, where he let Chloë Sevigny be her annoying, twitchy, yappy self while chasing pedophiles and serial killers because, apparently, 80 of those shows on the air is not enough.
I’m tough on crime… TV shows. I’m tough on them because I love them, and have loved them since I first watched Detectives Frank Banner, Tom Morgan and Mick Peters smack around a junkie in a South Melbourne laneway in Division 4 in a time called the 1970s, when humans and dinosaurs lived in harmony (sorry, spending too much time laughing at conservapedia.com while I should be working).
Never judge a TV series by the pilot. I’ll crawl back to Gang Related for a few more weeks. It seems to have all the right ingredients but it remains to be seen whether it’s left on the stove too long and becomes network TV stew.