Leading a double life is probably very stressful.
It should follow then that watching Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez) try to juggle his day job as an LAPD detective on the elite Gang Task Force with his extracurricular career as an informant for a powerful Los Angeles gang family should offer edge-of-your-seat tension. Through no fault of Rodriguez’s, who makes Ryan somewhat sympathetic even as he does terrible things, it does not.
Instead, Fox’s new crime drama, “Gang Related,” premiering Thursday at 9 p.m., offers up what feels like the dregs from the same pan in which many, many cop show predecessors, both better and worse, have been cooked up, including more intense series like “The Shield” or “The Wire.” The recipe of mean streets, cops with questionable moral compasses, the hardened thugs of the drug trade, the innocent people caught up in it, and task force members suffering private trauma is one repeatedly and happily consumed by many TV and film viewers.
But just as Lopez struggles to balance his loyalties, so does “Gang Related” struggle to bring fresh energy to the formula.
Airing on a broadcast network hamstrings the creators somewhat, but other series have managed, including USA’s “Graceland,” which has its second-season premiere June 11 and more enjoyably covers much of this same territory, albeit with a shinier exterior.
Just as LAPD detective Lopez struggles to balance his loyalties, so does ‘Gang Related’ struggle to imbue the formula with fresh energy.
Rodriguez is not alone in his ability to make the best of this warmed-over tale.
Cliff Curtis — a veteran character actor from New Zealand who has managed to play just about every brown-hued ethnicity under the sun — has moments that are both moving and chilling as Javier Acosta, the crime boss who claims to want to go clean but appears to take pleasure in making a bloody mess.
In a flashback, we see Javier watch Ryan stand up to his bullying older son Carlos (Rey Gallegos). He admires Ryan’s strength and says to him, “I could use people like you.” So he does, grooming the orphaned boy to become his inside man to help keep “the family” safe.
Trouble is, Ryan has grown up to become a pretty great cop and has earned the respect of his fellow task force members, including RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, serving up some comic relief as Cassius Green, and their task force boss, Sam Chapel (Terry O’Quinn).
O’Quinn has had trouble finding a series regular role as great as the one he had on “Lost,” and this encouraging but hard-nosed cliche is not it, even as he brings both warmth and prickliness in equally convincing measures. (A subplot about his estrangement from his daughter, who is TV- coincidentally the assistant district attorney and potential love interest for Ryan, does not look promising.)
But if, after two episodes, you don’t care if the main character’s big secret is discovered or not — or even start rooting for him to be found out so it will be over — it doesn’t matter how strong the individual members of the “Gang” are.