Fox’s Gang Related is a show that I’ve had my eye on since September of last year. Terry O’Quinn’s presence drew my interest but the premise itself was intriguing. Ryan Lopez, played by Ramon Rodriguez is an undercover cop but not in the sense that cops are usually undercover. He’s undercover in the police force working for the Acosta family and their family, Los Angelicos. But he’s not just a part of any police department, he’s a member of O’Quinn’s special task force dedicated to taking down the gangs of Los Angeles.
Working simultaneously for and against Los Angelicos is a natural source of conflict and one that the show plays well. O’Quinn’s Samuel Chapel is a no-nonsense captain, hellbent on taking down Cliff Curtis as Javier Acosta, the head of Los Angelicos and the Acosta family. Javier and Chapel are really two sides of the same coin, however, and neither one is really a saint. Chapel’s tactics fall under the Jack Bauer school of thought rather than the by-the-book approach. At one point, there’s even a debate about whether or not he pushed a suspect out a window.
Javier, on the other hand, is a businessman. He makes deals with other gangs, supplies drugs and just generally manages to portray his work as a legit business. It is almost easy to forget that a lot of people are dying on his orders because we never see him get his hands dirty, at least not until later in the season. This is good writing and it is directed well because Ryan’s plight is much more sympathetic. Both men come across as father figures to the orphaned Ryan but Javier is the kindly, considerate parallel to Chapel’s tough, get the job done persona.
It also helps that Javier is trying to go clean. He makes a deal with another gang, the Metas, to hand over their fish scale business along with all other aspects of their operations. In return, the Acosta family keep their non-gang affiliated businesses and are freed from the dangerous life they have led thus far. Javier’s youngest son, Daniel Acosta, played by Jay Hernandez, is also Ryan’s best friend, went to college and opens his own bank. Daniel represents all that Javier wants for his family and has nothing to do with the gang at all and yet, Chapel still goes after him, intending on using Daniel to get to Javier.
Ryan’s is conflicted and the audience can easily emphasise with him. Rodriguez is a likable actor but the portrayal of the situation around him helps immensely. Had Javier been a typical, blood thirsty criminal it would have been much harder to understand why Ryan stands by him at personal risk. The whole Acosta family appears to be good-hearted and making the best of their bad situation really with the exception of the older son, Carlos Acosta. Rey Gallegos acts in the role of Carlos, who appears to revel in the gang lifestyle, even going so far to kill Ryan’s partner. That is really the instigating moment. Up until that point, Ryan seems happy to live the double life. It is Carlos’ willingness to kill without caring for the consequences that makes Ryan rethink what he’s been doing for the Acosta family.
Complicating matters are the District Attorney’s office who begin investigating the police department for informants, especially Chapel’s daughter Jessica, played by One Tree Hill’s Shantel VanSanten. She begins a relationship with Ryan, who has to keep the affair hidden from both Chapel and the Acosta family; Chapel because if he is willing to push a low-level criminal out of a window what might he do to the guy sticking it to his daughter and the Acosta’s because having an Assistant District Attorney in his bed threatens to expose their entire operation. Ryan knows this but continues pursuing Jessica anyway. Their relationship seems like a reprieve for Ryan from the constant pulling from the opposite sides.
None of the plans go as intended predictably and yet the show has enough surprises that it often that it feels fresh. This is not your typical cop show and is a welcome change from the many NCIS and CSI procedural shows that seem to fill the airwaves. It helps that the show airs for a thirteen episode in the summer months between the end of the 2013 schedule and the upcoming 2014 schedule so it avoids being pitted against or compared to many of the other cop procedural shows. Of course it has what viewers want most from a cop show; action. Each episode generally features the team of Rodriguez, RZA, Sung Kang and Inbar Lavi suiting up in their task force gear and making drug busts or saving hostages but the show is much more character driven than action orientated.
Even the supporting characters have their own development over the course of the first season. Lavi’s ICE agent, Veronika Dotsen, gets stuck with a needle during a mission and may be HIV positive. Kang, better known as Hans from The Fast and Furious franchise, plays FBI agent Tae Kim but it is implied that might not even be his real name. But it’s really Ryan’s story and his character development that moves the plot along. Rodriguez might not be the best actor but he is endearing in role which helps in seeing him juggle the demands of Los Angelicos and the GTF.
The dilemma is really the driving force of the show and keeps the story interesting. Do we, the viewer, want to see Ryan succeed if Chapel is worse than the man that he is chasing? Do we want to see him fail if it turns out that Javier is more devious and black-hearted than originally perceived? With only one episode left in the season, these are still questions that hang in the air. Unfortunately, the show has yet to be renewed for a second season so this might just be another show that, despite my best hopes, gets cancelled anyway.