Loosely based on the Best-selling book of the same name by Roberto Saviano (a book which The New York Times called one of the most important literary works of 2007), Gomorrah is, in short, one of the best shows on TV right now; it’s Italy’s answer to The Wire, a harder, grittier, version of The Sopranos where literally no-one is safe.
Set in the suburbs of Naples, and largely following the power-struggles faced by one specific clan within the Camorra (a type of true Italian mafia), Gomorrah not only shows viewers a different side to the pristine Italy we’re used to seeing on the box (where the history, food, and weather make the country look like a little slice of heaven), but gives everyone a glimpse into both the inner-workings of Italy’s modern mafia, and a glimpse of the harsh realities faced by families living in the poorer districts of Naples and beyond.
What sets Gomorrah apart from the multitude of US based crime series’ is its characters; US shows typically have a hero, a likeable male lead who the we’re supposed to admire and get behind (while Tony Soprano often did bad things, he was a good guy at heart, and we were always supposed to root for him), yet Gomorrah refuses to follow this pattern; not only are its secondary characters often complete dirtbags, even the two principal characters; disillusioned foot soldier Cirio di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), and the Don’s son Genny Savastano (Salvatore Esposito); prove time and again they’re vicious, power-hungry, brutal, thoroughly unlikeable, and deeply untrustworthy people – a fact which only adds to the show’s realism and authenticity.
In fact Gomorrah is so authentic it’s almost difficult to believe; not only is it shot on location in the poor, Camorra-dominated districts of Naples (a decision which clearly upped production costs, but adds a layer of depth, thought, and realism to an already brilliant show), and based on Roberto Saviano’s book (a non-fiction work which has led to the author receiving death threats, and going into hiding in an attempt o avoid mafia assassination), but the writers were given access to a wealth of Saviano’s unused first-hand accounts, which the creative team then took two years to adapt into the first season, meaning not only are the politics, hierarchy, and day-to-day activities of the various clans depicted with pinpoint accuracy, but the majority of the events in the show (or at least those in the first season) actually happened.
Yet even without knowing this, you can tell Gomorrah has it right; it’s hard-edged gritty nature tells of a bleak, impossible-to-police, area which not only looks beaten down but feels broken, desperate, and disillusioned, and there are numerous examples where hard-working families find their children pulled into a life of crime simply because there is no alternative (short, but emotional tales which can be explored in less than an episode at times, or longer when needs be). Plus, on top of the real locales, the easy-to-engage-with stories of ordinary families, and the bleak outlook of the show, the politics within the clans is exceptionally detailed; here, just like in real-life Naples and the Comorra, the focus is much more on warring street gangs rather than a traditional top-down mafia system as seen in Sicily and La Cosa Nostra; entirely drawn from Saviano’s accounts, the show not only pinpoints the inner-workings of a previously closed-off organisation, but exposes a number of ways in which these gangs evade detection, and the level of influence and corruption their organisations have within the city.
We see how new drugs dens are chosen, setup, and planned well in advance to defend from the unlikely event of a police raid. We see the gangs attempting to win favour with the locals in order to gain their support (always handy when evading the law). We see gang members handing children guns to play with, and even shimming them away so they can murder their parents in the next street, or even the next room. It’s far from a happy show, but it’s one which begs belief, and becomes instantly compelling; a true must-watch piece of televisual perfection.
Not only is Gomorrah superbly written (in a uniquely Italian way which, instead of running concurrent plot lines for multiple episodes, chooses to focus on one character/series of events for an episode until their particular story, or part of the story, is played out), it’s action-packed (we’ve deaths, massacres, fire-bombings, robberies, murders, shootings and more in every single episode), and amazingly well acted (not only are Marco D’Amore and Salvatore Esposito brilliant as the power-hungry Cirio and the initially inept Genny, but Fortunato Cerlino is mesmerising as the over-the-hill Don, and every single cast member, no matter how minor, truly embodies their specific role), but it’s directed by Stefano Sollima with stunning precision and a bold level of brilliantly bleak beauty which has to be seen to be believed.
Mokadelic’s hauntingly tragic, easily recognisable, and well utilised score is also not only memorable, but reflects the Greek tragedy vibe of the various plots, and the epic scale upon which the game is played, and is just one more reason to watch this undeniably brilliant, intense, complex, and emotionally turbulent show; a series with action, heart, intrigue, betrayal, conviction, and serious thought behind it; because behind all the backstabbing, the politics, the broken alliances, the dirty deals, the guns, the drugs, the graphic deaths, and the power struggles, it’s a show which can easily be boiled down to simple themes of family, belonging, and togetherness, and that’s what makes it both universally appealing, and thoroughly compelling.
While there are clear differences with the picture quality on both seasons of Gomorrah, both remain extremely strong. The desaturated look of season one leads to slightly less natural looking skin tones, and an overall blue/orange look to the show which does leave things looking a touch subdued at times, but don’t worry, colours are still vibrant, fine detail and textures are excellent, and black levels are extremely strong (sowing only minimal noise at the worst of times), meaning there’s very little to worry about here.
Season two however, is even better; the desaturated look is gone, skin tones are perfect, and the primary colour boost has given the entire picture much more ‘pop’, with extremely vibrant colours often effectively highlighting the stark contrast between the poor and the wealthy in the districts these crime families operate. Both textures and fine detail remains strong and unwavering, and season one’s impressive black levels have even been beaten here (without even the vaguest hint of noise or crush).
An excellent overall presentation with no compression issues, no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement, and only negligible smatterings of banding here and there; an impressive feat for nearly 20 hours of TV.
Again both seasons come with very different soundtracks, as season one comes with a strong LPCM 2.0 Stereo mix which is admittedly excellent for a stereo track; well prioritised, with enough bass when needs be, some decent effects, and consistently clean and clear dialogue; while season two’s soundtrack is opened up to a whole new level thanks to the inclusion of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track; a surround sound mix which is consistently active, and utilises the newly added rear channels to superb effect in both the bustling residential districts and clubs pictured, as well as the more subtle outdoor locations. Dialogue is also just as clear and well prioritised, there are more chances for pans and effective transitions, the low-end is fantastic, and the entire mix is just so much more engaging and encompassing.
For anyone watching, like me, with English subtitles, you’ll also be pleased to know the subtitles are handled well one both seasons; presented by a clear white font (generally anchored at the bottom of the screen) which stays visible for plenty of time (for those who don’t read at lightning speed), and while dialogue may be interpreted a touch literally in season one, the second season does a great job (bar one or two noticeable exceptions) of adding in colloquialisms, and sounding much more natural.
Season one comes with a half-hour-long Making Of featurette which packs in plenty of information; with behind the scenes footage, interviews, and discussions on everything from location shooting, to actors’ interpretations of the characters, stunt work, and more; and is guaranteed to be welcomed by fans of the show.
Sadly the bonus materials included with the second season are far less impressive; consisting of a handful of interviews (totalling 13 minutes) with principle cast members and directors (enjoyable and informative enough, but far from special), and 20 minutes of candid behind the scenes footage – dialogue free tat, which simply shows actors standing around, directors preparing shots, and very very little worthwhile images at all.
A light and extremely mixed bag, it’s a shame we didn’t get more of a discussion about the book upon which the series is loosely based, or discussions about the real Comorra, possibly a detailed run-through of an action scene or two, or even look at character connections within the show. Some of what’s here is worth watching (the season one making of specifically), but don’t expect to be bowled over by Gomorrah‘s special features.
The Bottom Line:
While the bonus materials may be a little lacking, the generally excellent picture and sound quality here only add to the presentation of what is a brilliantly brutal, realistic, and immensely engaging TV show the likes of which aren’t being produced in either the UK or US right now.
Grittier than The Sopranos, and even more realistic than The Wire, Gomorrah has everything you could possibly want from a superbly made Italian crime drama; there’s intrigue, mystery, stellar writing, superb acting, a solid score, brilliant production values, an amazing air of authenticity, fantastic direction, and an intense, emotionally-charged, thoroughly complex yet sublimely simple plot at the heart of it all; the definition of must watch TV.
|Buy from Amazon.co.uk||Buy from Amazon.com|