Gangs, camera, action


Gangs, camera, action

PIETER VAN DER LUGT looks at what's new in the crime genre on TV.


EVEN murder can get boring. After the umpteenth series with young dead women and divorced detectives who drink or are on the spectrum, you might be ready for crime with a different set of conventions.

Gang stories, especially involving drugs, are hitting Netflix again like mosquito bites and there are quite a few with enough sting to keep you awake. Sometimes they even come with a bit of social commentary, but nothing that stands in the way of shootouts and backstabbing.

Here are good options.

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Top Boy

This award-winning series was unexpectedly cancelled after two seasons on British TV. One admirer, rapper Drake, decided he would pay for more. He is an executive producer of the three new seasons on Netflix.

The fictional Summerhouse is a housing scheme in the east of London. The initial seasons focus on Ra'Nell, a boy who tries to walk the straight and narrow to school among the drug dealers and has to cope without his mother, who ends up in an institution with severe depression.

They were an intense two seasons with a jerky camera, uncomfortably intimate close-ups and an all-pervading sense of impending doom.

The three new seasons are just Top Boy (the old ones were renamed Top Boy: Summerhouse).

It's six years later and two of the older drug dealers are now in the spotlight. Dushane is in Jamaica but clashes with a drug lord and has to make a deal with him to protect his family. Sully comes out of prison and Dushane tries to restore ties with his old friend so they can try to become rich and important together again. There is a flicker of decency in Dushane but Sully is an impulsive weakling with an itchy trigger finger.

The new Top Boy episodes have a calmer camera and try to give life to the characters, albeit with sentimental moments. The rest of the time, it's old-fashioned in the dangerous streets of Summerhouse.

Suburra: Blood on Rome

In the last days of Silvio Berlusconi, a scandal hit Rome. Organised crime, politicians and even the Vatican fought for development rights of a nearby beach town. Suburra is loosely based on this sordid piece of history.

It's family against family, with a Sicilian mafia boss, an unscrupulous politician and an emotionless cardinal in the Vatican fighting with or against them to get the exclusive right to the building project.

The sequel, Suburraeterna, is now on Netflix and begins with the dramatic fall of one family, followed by the inevitable revenge and retribution.

One of the striking things about the captivating series is how some of the crimes and conspiracies are filmed against the backdrop of Rome's iconic buildings. The symbolism is clear. The city, where Suburra was the name of a wild, poor neighbourhood in Roman times, still has a hunger for power, wealth and status.

The characters are well developed and for some you can feel sympathy. Just not too much, because everyone is someone's target and your favourite might be the next to end up in a shallow grave.

Criminal Code

Another true story becomes fiction in a Brazilian series about the “heist of the century" that took place just across the border in Paraguay in 2017. The script sticks to the crime facts and the heist is stunning, followed by the kind of destructive chase you usually see only in big-budget movies.

The hero is a policeman who obsessively believes that the man who shot his colleague during a prison riot is also behind the heist. His bosses think it's nonsense but he and his new colleague desperately search for evidence. No subtle character building to report but plenty of action, which is stylishly filmed.

Ferry: The Series

Dutch surnames are often worth a chuckle, so … the main villain and his wife in this one are played by Frank Lammers and Elise Schaap.

Ferry Bouman is a greasy drug dealer who lives on a campsite with his trophy wife Danielle and her lapdog. They are in North Brabant province in the southern Netherlands, Europe's largest producer of Ecstasy and other chemical drugs.

The series is a sequel to Undercover, in which two detectives move into a caravan opposite Ferry and try to win his favour so they can unmask him. It's an egg dance, because Ferry's henchmen live all around them. If someone sees something suspicious, it's over. Completely over: the forest next to the campsite is already the last resting place for quite a few people who tried to oppose Ferry.

Ferry: The Series tells the backstory of how Bouman got to where he is. It has a lighter tone with sometimes simplistic humour, but once again it is Danielle who gives the whole thing pathos.

She is an anxious, naive woman who transforms her and Ferry's “chalet" into a kitsch paradise and sees nothing but the shred of humanity in her husband. In the course of the two stories, she desperately searches for alternative medicine for her nerves and tries in vain to make friends with the other camp women. She stirs heartstrings.

Gangs of Oslo

Moaz is a policeman who has been transferred to a neighbourhood where he grew up. While helping with the first big case, he realises the leader of the gang on his radar, Enemiez, is his old school friend Rami.

When they were young, Rami once helped him get away from the police. He is soon reminded of this when Rami demands that he feeds the gang information about the police.

Rami finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and begins to dream of a normal life. Moaz feels estranged from his wife and succumbs to a new colleague. Both men's attention obviously wanders and this makes them more unpredictable.

The most enjoyable character is someone else: a 12-year-old number head with a sharp mouth who starts doing chores for Rami. As much as you enjoy the child, it is disturbing to realise he is being hand-raised for a life of crime.

In the end, this is the lasting impression of all these stories: the children suffer the most. It's heartbreaking to see how they try to be just children in stolen moments. But we know that's how it is. Every day's news tells stories like this.

♦ VWB ♦

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