We have reached that point in the television season when most of the series have aired their cliffhanging season finales, but TV watchers need not despair because this is also the time when some new programs spring up to fill the void. One of those is “Gang Related,” a new crime drama that made its debut on FOX last Thursday, and it looks most promising.
Set in modern-day Los Angeles, “Gang Related” is a story about the elite Gang Task Force, a branch of the Los Angeles Police Department, headed by the streetwise veteran cop Sam Chapel (Terry O’Quinn). His star detective is Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez), whose dad died when he was very young and who sees Sam as a father figure.
Early on in the show, Ryan and his partner, James Tanner (Ross Thomas), score a big victory for the LAPD, and that evening they join their colleagues at a bar for a celebration. As they are leaving the establishment, James spots someone acting suspiciously at a building across the street. Despite Ryan’s protestations to the contrary, James insists on throwing a scare into the guy, but when he calls out, the fellow disappears into a narrow passageway with James in hot pursuit.
Naturally Ryan goes after his partner, and the first thing he discovers is a couple of dead bodies. When he calls out to his partner, however, he receives no reply and walks deeper into the passageway until he finds James, who has been fatally shot, breathing his final breath.
After failing to save his James’ life, Ryan turns around to find the killer lurking in the shadows. The murderer is Carlos Acosta (Reynaldo Gallegos), son of the notorious Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis), who is the head of a brutal crime syndicate known as the Los Angelicos. Now here comes the twist upon which the series is based, and this isn’t really a spoiler because everything you read about the show includes this vital detail. Instead of killing Carlos on the spot, Ryan lets him go!
Yes, it seems that after Ryan’s father died, Javier took the 10-year-old boy in and raised him as his own so that when Ryan was old enough, he could infiltrate LAPD and make certain no harm comes to the Acosta family. How’s that for a surprise? Now we have a guy who really likes being a cop, but he also has pledged to protect a ruthless crime family. Obviously Ryan is terribly conflicted because he’s indebted to Javier for giving him a home, but he also loves and respects Sam.
In addition to those already mentioned, the talented cast includes RZA as DEA Agent Cassius Green, Jay Hernandez as Dante Acosta, Javier’s other biological son who is making an honest living as a banker, Sung Kang as FBI Agent Tae Kim, Inbar Lavi as ICE Agent Vanessa “Vee” Hicks, and Shantel VanSanten as Jessica “Jess” Chapel, Sam’s estranged daughter, who also happens to be the assistant district attorney.
“Gang Related” is scheduled for a 13-episode run, and, based upon the pilot, it should be a dandy. All of the characters are interesting, and it’s a fascinating premise with a guy who wants to be a good cop committed to a crime lord. Rodriquez, who starred in the TV series “The Wire” from 2006 to 2008, is excellent in the role of Ryan, and in a recent online interview he explained what attracted him to the role.
“It was the character, as complex as he is and as complex as the situation he’s in. I love that he’s got heart, and he’s kind of in a moral dilemma, caught between the two families, the cop family and the gang family that he was raised in. I love the back story of Ryan and where he comes from – why is he so dedicated to this guy Javier? To me, it always made sense: a 10-year-old boy who’s an orphan is taken in by this guy who’s respected in the community, and given purpose. He’s empowered. This guy saved his life, so he’ll do anything for him, and I thought that was an interesting concept, to see how he handles it when he starts building ties on the cop side.
“I’ve always viewed Ryan as a good guy, first and foremost. I think he’s got a good heart; he just happens to be in a tough situation, and I think everything he does, in his mind, is well intended. Later on, as the season progresses, the choices and the situations become much more difficult, much more grey. But what the show does really well, and I commend the writers on this, is that every action has a consequence. It’s not like you can just go and hurt someone, and nothing happens because of it. And a lot of that weighs on Ryan’s conscience. He’s walking around with a lot of guilt for his behavior and what he has to do, and he wants to be doing the right thing for his family, so it’s a tough scenario.”
O’Quinn also is perfect for the key role of Sam Chapel, head of the Gang Task Force and a highly respected police officer. You will recognize him immediately because he has appeared in myriad TV series including “Jag,” “Alias,” “Lost,” “666 Park Avenue,” and “Hawaii Five-O.” In an online interview he offered an interesting analysis of his character.
“He’s a career cop, and he’s pretty driven in his job. I want to say he’s a family man, but only because his family is his task force. He’s divorced, and he has a daughter who works for the district attorney, and he apparently was not a very good father. So they have issues from the get-go, he and his daughter. But he’s a very loyal man to his people. But it can be a small family. It’s not like he thinks all cops are his family. His gang is his family. Which clearly reflects the other side of the fence in our television show: Los Angelicos, a Latino gang that Sam Chapel is most occupied with. He’s trying to control the influence of these gangs in L.A., but particularly this one. But a member of his task force—Ryan Lopez, played by Ramon Rodriguez—was raised by this gang, so that’s why we’re dealing with that gang, although the task force doesn’t know Ryan Lopez has that association. And because of Sam’s obvious affection for and loyalty to Ryan Lopez and the rest of his [own] gang members, he probably would be the last person to see the tie that Ryan has to that gang. Those are probably his vulnerabilities—his affections and his loyalties.”
In other key roles, Curtis is quite effective as Javier, and even though he is mostly evil, he is difficult to dislike because of his relationship with Ryan. Such is not the case, however, with Gallegos, who is superbly despicable as the dastardly Carlos.
At the same time it was introducing characters and establishing important relationships, the pilot for “Gang Related” offered some great action sequences and an intriguing look inside the LAPD. I have high hopes for this show, which earns the final score of an enthusiastic eight. It will be very interesting to see how all these characters develop during the coming weeks, and how they all end up in some way related to a gang.