Cop in ‘Gang Related’ torn between good and bad

Posted Tuesday, May. 20, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Gang Related

• 8 p.m. Thursday

• KDFW/Channel 4

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Gang Related is a gritty new cop show with a unique twist.

We’ve all seen crime dramas in which police go deep undercover within criminal street gangs. But this series, premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox, turns the familiar premise upside-down.

This time, it’s the gang member who infiltrates an elite Los Angeles task force.

And here’s the disturbing part: Executive producer/series creator Chris Morgan, who’s best known for writing and producing “The Fast and the Furious” movies, says the scenario was inspired by real events.

“The idea came from a police dash cam video of officers responding to a man-with-a-gun call,” Morgan says. “The cops show up and they’re confronted by a guy with an AK-47. The cops, as good as they are, and even though they vastly outnumbered him, could not stop this guy.

“When they reviewed the video later, they determined that he was using a military technique called “slicing the pie,” in which he barely exposes himself and opens a wider field of fire and becomes a really hard target.

“What they deduced from that was this was a gang member, sent into the military to become a better soldier to come back and fight on the streets. That made me start thinking: If they’re sending people into the military to learn tactics and strategy, where else would gangs be sending people?”

Morgan’s follow-up thought was this: “What if a guy, a superstar in the task force, unbeknownst to his teammates, is actually a gang member who is informing for his gang?”

Ramon Rodriguez stars as Detective Ryan Lopez, the L.A. cop with a dark secret. Before joining the police force, Ryan pledged allegiance to a different band of brothers, a powerful Latino gang called Los Angelicos.

But now he’s having a bit of an identity crisis: Ryan’s loyalties are starting to shift in the ongoing war between law enforcement and gangs. He’s is coming to the conclusion that he’d rather be a good cop than an informant.

“I approached him as if he’s a good guy,” Rodriguez says. “He’s a complex guy who’s trying to protect himself and survive, but also to protect his family. So he’s always putting up walls.”

Fittingly, the actor split his research time between the LAPD and gangs.

“I had about six weeks where I got to spend time doing ride-alongs, surveillance and weapons training,” he says. “Then they introduced me to former and active gang members in different neighborhoods: South Central, Watts, the Newton District.

“I also got to go to a prison and speak with inmates there to get their perspective on everything, on gang life and growing up in that world and how organized it is. It was very helpful.”

Morgan is quick to point out that not every cast member needed to do that kind of research. It so happens that actors Jay Hernandez and Emilio Rivera have first-hand familiarity with the gang world.

“Emilio, who plays our Tio Gordo character, was involved in his youth and he brings the very real credibility and honesty to the role,” Morgan says. “He is a great resource to us. He’ll always step up and say, ‘This doesn’t sound like someone would say it’ or ‘I don’t think someone would do this move.’ So he’s someone we really use and treasure for that.

“Jay Hernandez grew up in that neighborhood. He has siblings who would go a different path than him. And frankly Ramon has friends who grew up in that world, too.”

While Gang Related doesn’t glamorize or sanitize the ugly and often violent aspects of gang life, the show attempts to explore why someone would join a gang.

“We really want to get under the skin of everybody and explore the fact that, in every hero, there’s a darkness and in every villain, there is something heroic as well,” Morgan says. “People are more than just black and white. They are gray and they are messy.

“That’s the gauntlet we want to run all our characters through.”

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