Hit or Sh**: SundanceTV’s GOMORRAH
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
When I heard that GOMORRAH was going to be a series I was pretty jazzed, mainly because this was an opportunity to finally use my Italian Studies minor (“useless,” according to Mom) in a somewhat academic setting, but also because the film by the same name was absolutely fantastic. Both the film and the series are adapted from a 2006 novel by Roberto Saviano. GOMORRAH (or, in its native language, GOMORRA) the novel is investigative nonfiction and details areas in and around the city of Naples affected by the Camerra, an Italian crime syndicate. The book earned Saviano threats from many heads of many different syndicates as well as a permanent police escort from the Italian government. Basically everything surrounding this book is very far from fucking around, from the movie to the show to even the damn stage play.
Mental note: Press Thomas to make a theater section for Crossfader
GOMORRAH the show premiered in Italy back in 2014 and is one of the country’s best-rated TV shows of all time. Sundance TV recently acquired seasons one and two from the Weinstein Company and is giving it a trial run in the US. The show focuses on Ciro di Marziano (Marco D’Amore), a high-ranking member of the Camerra organization as he deals with his life of crime under powerful godfather Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino, who has recently appeared in HANNIBAL), who’s battling for control over his turf as well as his family. The central conflict of the pilot revolves around Pietro trying to strike back at a rival encroaching on his territory, but due to overcompensation he doesn’t quite consider the best way to do so, which Ciro picks up on, thus setting the tone for the rest of the show. Meanwhile, his son Gennaro, or “Genny” (Salvatore Esposito), wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but his inexperience and bravado makes him just as unreliable as his father.
Kids, right? What’re you gonna do?
While this sounds like a re-treading of literally every gangster movie or TV show, the way this show differs from THE SOPRANOS or THE GODFATHER is in the way everything is unrelentingly bleak. In THE SOPRANOS, Tony wants to connect with his family and potentially go legit, and THE GODFATHER makes a point to show how distinguished and high class the criminals are. While Pietro is an incredibly wealthy man and a few scenes depict the decadence he lives in, what sets the show apart is how it lays bare the dirt and grime of life on the Neapolitan streets and how crime affects those that live there. There’s a scene at the end where small boys play a game of “Lookout” where one boy has to sneak up to an abandoned building being watched over by another. The scene parallels an earlier one where a block of abandoned buildings is being used for drug sales and a system of lookouts calls an “all clear” once a neighborhood watch has passed them by. This was something I loved about the film that I’m glad holds true in the series.
Eat it, Baz Luhrmann
In addition, every line of dialogue is spoken in Italian with English subtitles, which gives the show that elevated feeling that comes from watching something foreign (lookin’ at you, European Cinema in General), as well as a further sense of authenticity and immersion in the story. What’s interesting is that not only are the characters probably speaking far less eloquently than they seem, but they also all speak in the Neapolitan dialect. If you’re unfamiliar with Italian socio-geographic stereotypes and tropes, the South of Italy is generally regarded to be far more rural, uneducated, crime-ridden, and lazy than the North. (For further information, check out Luca Miniero’s BENVENUTI AL SUD [“Welcome to the South”].) In this way, the show provides an interesting commentary on classism, or a negative reinforcement of stereotypes, depending on who you ask.
I mean, look at how wacky this shit looks
I wish the show had included more of the film’s depiction of a host of characters in varying situations, detailing how crime affected them, such as a plot involving a money man/counterfeit clothing maker, another featuring two teens who want to take on the Camerra on their own, and another where a young boy who falls into the criminal world just by virtue of living around it. It was, I felt, a more complex and rewarding method of storytelling, but the more traditional method suits the show fine. Not every show can be GAME OF THRONES, and that’s okay.
In a lot of ways, that’s probably for the best
While GOMORRAH is interesting and does things differently than other shows featuring criminal elements, nothing particularly grabbed me in terms of character or plot. The characters are mostly archetypes we’ve seen before, but I’m hoping that Pietro’s moglie (Italian for “wife”) Immacolata (Maria Pia Calzone) develops into more of a Cersei Lannister type as the series goes on. Furthermore, there’s nothing too situationally interesting about the show, but I feel that this sort of no-frills look at organized crime is somewhat interesting in and of itself. This, along with the difficulty that came along with trying to watch the episode (you’re welcome for the 30 free days of British Amazon Prime, Mom!), might prevent me from following the show too closely. While the show is objectively good, I’m not quite interested enough to keep watching it, and it remains to be seen if it can truly take the elements it’s been given and transform them into something bella ed avvicente.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
GOMORRAH airs on Wednesdays on SundanceTV