TV scheduling is such a mystery now that it’s difficult to determine if a late-May, postseason premiere is a compliment or an insult or simply an acknowledgment that the old model is beyond repair.
“Gang Related,” a surprisingly muscular crime drama premiering Thursday night on Fox, is as good a test case as any to see if it matters anymore when something is on. If this one bombs, you can’t really assign much blame to the content.
Aside from its emphasis on Latino culture and casting, “Gang Related” is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it skillfully presses several popular buttons at once. It’s a fast-paced shoot-’em-up/blow-’em-up affair (with the usual ridiculous disregard for actual public safety), but beneath the noise and oozing machismo, it’s not half bad as a deeper emotional story about family and trust.
Ramon Rodriguez stars as Ryan Lopez, a detective on the LAPD’s Gang Task Force. When his partner is killed by a member of the powerful Los Angelicos crime syndicate, Ryan and his colleagues (including Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as Detective Cassius Green and “Lost’s” Terry O’ Quinn as task force leader Sam Chapel) step up their efforts to curtail the gang, which is headed by the mysterious Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis).
The twist, of course, in the style of “The Departed” et al, is that Ryan is secretly a plant: Orphaned as a boy in East L.A., he was taken in by Acosta, who raised him to follow a straight-laced career path from the military into the police force. Ryan now acts as Acosta’s eyes and ears on the inside, helping the gang avoid drug busts and other bothers that would inhibit the family biz.
Ryan is also just as dedicated to the task force’s work, torn between his desire to fight crime and Acosta’s reassurances that the family is working toward divesting itself of its criminal enterprises.
Impatiently, Ryan pulls a double-cross at the end of the first episode that fans “Gang Related’s” fiery through-line. When the outcome is not as he planned, the show gets 100 percent more interesting, as Ryan scrambles to cover his tracks so that neither his colleagues at the LAPD nor his vatos in Los Angelicos will discover his ambiguous loyalties. It’s an old plot, to be sure, but creator/writer Chris Morgan manages to push “Gang Related” slightly (I said slightly) in the direction of “Sons of Anarchy” or “The Shield.”
Whether Fox originally intended to air the series in the summertime or not, “Gang Related” works fine as the explosive diversion it sets out to be.
(one hour) premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox.