Summer is the perfect testing ground for new television shows. Lower budgets and lighter PR campaigns equal less pressure. Struggling shows that would normally get the quick yank from network execs in the fall are given the chance to recover from a slow start. The major networks can take risks, as the cable networks like AMC and FX have done, or they could bet on something familiar to carry their programming slate into the cooler months. FOX chose the latter when ordering Gang Related, the Los Angeles cop drama from Fast & Furious writer Chris Morgan.
Betting on black or red at the roulette table sounds safe, but the payoff is small. The pitch for Gang Related sounded intriguing. Take a hero detective who is respected by his peers but hides a heavy secret behind his badge and leave him smack in-between two worlds, the gang family he grew up with and his work family, LA’s Gang Task Force. I’ll give it that the premise strays from the ordinary cop drama. My dissatisfaction with Gang Related’s underwhelming pilot episode is the constant and tired need to reinvent the buddy cop genre. That could be a think piece for another day, however. Right now, the show is familiar and familiar is disenchanting for audiences who have come to expect and praise the unconventional.
From here on I’ll get a little into the plot, so watch out for Spoilers.
The show follows Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez), the conflicted detective who grew up around gangs in Los Angeles. They also throw around the word orphan a few times but we’ll have to wait for more information on that. Anyway, his role model and father figure was Javier Acosta, a gang leader. Sure, he’s a gang leader, but he’s made to be a sympathetic figure – a calm and gracious gang leader. From the opening scene we learn Javier had Lopez’s back since he was a little kid trying to guzzle a 40oz beer in the back of an abandoned car. So when Lopez found his place in law enforcement, he had an agreement in place with Javier. He was going to keep him informed. That’s not so much to ask, right?
Here’s where things get a little twisted. Javier’s jerk of a son, Carlos, the same young Carlos that snatched a young Lopez’s watch years back, took something else from the hero detective: his partner. Not only does Carlos kill Lopez’s partner and leaves him dying in his arms, but he also grazes Lopez with a bullet to the shoulder. We can only gather that despite all that Lopez has done for the family, Carlos is an ungrateful jerk who either doesn’t respect or doesn’t trust Lopez.
Everyone in the Gang Task Force does trust Lopez. That includes Captain Sam Chapel, whose name I originally typed out as “John Locke” because he’s played by Terry O’Quinn of LOST fame. It’s a role I feel O’Quinn can shine in, though the dialogue written for him was marred with exhausted cop dribble. The other major name in the cast is RZA of Wu-Tang Clan fame, who continues to establish an acting career, this time as Cassius Green, a character that feels like he was taken directly out of an ’80s buddy cop flick.
The matter of race is such an important component of the pilot but if we’re looking at the bigger picture of racial and gender representation in television, Gang Related does more to continue the unfortunate practice of portraying the Latino community in a limited scope, giving us the usual gang members, drug dealers, and law enforcement officials. If FOX is skeptical about taking a risk on a show that better represents the Latino community during the fall, then now would have been the right time to test new ideas and attempt to appeal to a broader and demographically importance audience. Instead, we get the familiar and it leaves us wanting something fresh.
The beauty of the summer season is this show will be given the gift of time. Now even if Gang Related fired on all cylinders, and there is potential for this cast to come together, it could leave us with a watchable, but forgettable show. If I have any gambling advice for FOX, bet on green next summer.