At the end of the first episode of Fox's new drama Gang Related (Thursday, 9/8c), viewers may be left wondering whether they should actually be rooting for the main character, Det. Ryan Lopez, according to star Ramon Rodriguez.
"In the pilot, something very dramatic happens early on," Rodriguez tells TVGuide.com. "I think people will question, is he a good person? Is this a good guy? But even what he does in the pilot, every action he takes throughout the series, is always for the family. He's trying to do what he thinks is the right thing. I think as he continues to get pushed, he might start to question, what is he doing?"
For those who haven't caught one of the gazillion promos Fox has aired to promote the show, Gang Related follows Ryan, a member of the LAPD's Gang Task Force who's actually working as a mole for one of the city's most dangerous gangs. As the show progresses, Ryan finds himself torn between his allegiance to two different father figures: Capt. Sam Chapel (Terry O'Quinn), his mentor and superior at the LAPD, and Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis), the leader of the Los Angelicos gang who took Ryan under his wing when Ryan was a little boy and essentially raised him.
"I think [the writers] did a good job of kind of giving you an inside look [at gang] life," Rodriguez says. "I grew up in New York City and I remember guys in my neighborhood that everybody respected. And if they looked at me or spoke to me, I would be like, 'Oh my God.' You just get so excited. And at the age of 10, when someone gives you purpose, that's a very powerful thing, for anyone. ... Ryan's like, I owe this guy my life. He saved my life, so I'm indebted to him. ... Javier tells him about all the injustices that happen in this country, and how the Latinos have struggled. And I think Ryan totally buys into that."
According to O'Quinn — who describes Sam Chapel as "the Brett Favre of the police force; he probably should have retired ... but he still wants to get out there" — the two biggest influences in Ryan's life may have more in common than even the young cop realizes.
"Both Javier and Sam are both very strong-willed and strong-minded, and dangerous men," O'Quinn tells TVGuide.com. "I think they're two sides of the same coin. They're both working toward an end. Javier, he's loyal to a fault. He protects his people and he protects his family, and he's doing his business. But he does it at the expense of other people. ... He ruins a lot of lives in the process. Sam Chapel does not do that. [However, Sam] doesn't mind breaking the law, because those ends justify the means."
Adds Rodriguez: "We're not trying to paint cops as good guys and gangsters as bad guys. There's some things that we see from the world of the family that I think are honorable and righteous ... and I think we're gonna see things from the cops that are questionable overall, or absolutely cross the line, but maybe for the greater good. And those are the tough decisions that cops in reality do have to make on a daily basis."
The other members of Ryan's Los Angelicos family include Javier's two sons, brutal gang leader Carlos (Rey Gallegos) and law-abiding investment banker Daniel (Jay Hernandez), who's married to Ryan's former flame Silvia. And on the other side of the crime tape are veteran task force member Cassius Green (RZA), and Sam's estranged daughter Jessica (Shantel VanSanten), who works as an Assistant District Attorney for the city. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that things get very complicated very quickly for Ryan.
"It was like a mission. 'I'm here to do a task, to get a job done, provide information,'" Rodriguez says of Ryan's justifying his deception. "And I think throughout the experience of being with the LAPD, it's inevitable that he actually started having feelings. ... [There's a moment] in the pilot where he just starts to question things, where up to that point he was just a really good soldier. He did what he was told, and he thought he could probably get away doing this without actually hurting people. ... It's hard to do everything he's doing without losing a bit of yourself throughout that. You realize he's almost still like a little kid who's searching for himself, who's trying to find his purpose and where he belongs."
Gang Related premieres Thursday at 9/8c on Fox. Will you watch? See why it's one of our Watch This Tonight editors' picks below: