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Fox's 'Gang Related' Packs an FX Punch
May 21, 2014  | By Ed Bark

Violent and visceral, Fox’s Gang Related could pretty easily pass as the latest graphic, anti-hero entry on sister cable network FX.

The action-packed cop drama (premiering Thursday, May 22, 9 p.m. ET on Fox) most closely resembles The Shield in its depiction of gang-infested East L.A., with taut, take-no-prisoners task force leader Sam Chapel barking out orders instead of bullet-domed Vic Mackey.

Gang Related essentially kicks off Fox’s summer season, premiering on the night after the May “sweeps” ratings period and the so-called “regular season” both call it a wrap. Four episodes were sent for review, and there’s an upward trajectory evident in terms of sorting out characters and raising the stakes, while also keeping the level of brutality very much in play.

Viewers who don’t care for the characters can be assured of a car chase, task force invasion, fist fight or gun battle in virtually every commercial-to-commercial increment. But the characters are, in fact, interesting in their own right.

Thursday’s first episode begins on July 4, 1998, with orphaned little Ryan Lopez getting beaten up by gang members until the leader of Los Angelicos, Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis), calls them off and begins grooming the kid for his future needs. Sixteen years later, Ryan (Ramon Rodriguez, right) is a valued member of the LAPD’s elite Gang Task Force. We first see Ryan and his ill-fated partner in a slam-bang car chase that involves roughly a half-dozen vehicle fatalities or serious wounds.

Ryan is secretly working both sides, impressing the rule-breaking Capt. Sam (Terry O’Quinn in another post-Lost try) with his crook-chasing capabilities, while also protecting the Acosta family’s interests whenever possible. Boss man Javier supposedly wants to go legit with a series of legal businesses. But first he must make a last big strike by controlling the distribution of a new super-potent drug called “Fishscale.”

Javier has one very unruly bad son (Rey Gallegos as Carlos) and one goodly, would-be banker son (Jay Hernandez as Daniel). But Capt. Sam wants to take down all the Acostas with help from Ryan and fellow GTF members Cassius Green (the actor and rapper known as RZA), Tae Kim (Sung Kang) and Veronica “Vee” Dotsen (Shantel VanSanten).

Vee’s a very hard charger, particularly when prying information out of sneering crum bums. So you’ll get to see her taze a guy in the nuts before the close-up camera shows him peeing his pants. She gets what she wants.

Gang Related’s other regular character is Shantel VanSanten as Capt. Sam’s estranged assistant D.A. daughter, Jessica. Fittingly, she’s assisted in her investigations of the GTF by former Shield regular Jay Karnes, who plays the recurring role of nosy internal affairs dude Paul Carter.

Spanish is regularly spoken throughout the initial four episodes, with English subtitles deployed. This is truly a layered, multi-ethnic cast, with Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Caucasians representing both the good and bad sides of the law.

O’Quinn’s character (left) is supposed to represent both. He doesn’t mind dispensing a little fatal justice -- or triggering a dog mauling in Episode 4 -- whenever someone seems to really deserve it. Episode 3 begins with an array of three more gang banger corpses, all of them members of the Black Lords and casualties of a Los Angelicos revenge attack. “At least it was NHI. No Humans Involved,” Capt. Sam deadpans while relatives of the dead are shown sobbing.

Gang Related can be excessive in its bloodlust, although broadcast networks can say with some justification that they’re merely trying to be as “adult” as their basic cable brethren. AMC’s The Walking Dead, a huge hit with advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, gets away with multiple scenes of carnage in every episode. In Episode 1 of Gang Related, Fox counters with a gang member being branded with a red-hot lug nut, the Bonnie and Clyde-style Swiss-cheesing of a main character, and that aforementioned tazer lap dance, in addition to attendant ample blood flow. But it’s only implied what happens next after a shackled member of the Lords calls Javier Acosta a “Mexican cockroach.” He responds by stripping down to his waist and brandishing a meat cleaver just before a commercial break.

Throughout all of this, Ryan Lopez is torn by conflicting loyalties. On the one hand, he’s happy to celebrate the GTF’s latest triumph over evil. But then he’s riding a motorcycle and wearing an all-concealing helmet to another nighttime rendezvous at the Los Angelicos lair, where he either tries to talk Javier down or meet him halfway with more duplicity at the cop shop.

It would be giving away too much to get into the specifics of an emotional Episode 3 encounter between Javier and son Carlos. But this is where Gang Related really starts to distinguish and establish itself as a series that might grow into something more than a vividly staged run ’n’ gun hour with little else going for it.

Episode 4 is also strong, while also very gruesome. It includes tough-talking Vee declaring, in no uncertain terms, “I might not hit a girl. But I will knock a bitch out.”

That she will. And while not yet a knockout, Gang Related shows signs of becoming a series that stays in there punching while also scoring some points.


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