If you've been paying even the smallest amount of attention to the expanding world of television, it's clear the U.S. has produced some of the world's finest and most addicting programs of the last 20 years. But the rest of the world is producing equally promising programming. You just need to know where to look.
Thankfully, SundanceTV is doing the legwork for you. In recent years, the network has proved to be committed to bringing the best of foreign television to American audiences, ranging from the French existential drama The Returned to the '80s-set German spy series Deutschland 83. However, the network's latest import is the cinematic Italian crime drama Gomorrah (Wednesday at 10/9c), set against the bloody backdrop of the Italian crime syndicate known as the Camorra, and it may be the network's best acquisition yet.
A dark and brutal series based on journalist Roberto Saviano's nonfiction book of the same name, Gomorrah carefully and beautifully depicts the far-reaching corruption of a new — but fictional — Neapolitan crime syndicate led by the no-nonsense Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino, Hannibal) as told through Pietro's trusted right-hand man Ciro (Marco D'Amore).
The series is Italy's most popular series of all time and has already been compared to prestige U.S. dramas like The Wire and The Sopranos, and fans of each will have no trouble identifying familiar themes found in the blood-drenched projects of Naples and pulling the familiar threads of power and corruption that were present in everything from The Wire to The Shield. But when a twist early on in the show's first season (Season 2 has already aired overseas) lands Don Pietro behind bars, the gritty drama firmly announces that it's not just a worthy successor to the best American series but also a contender to stand next to them as peers.
With Pietro serving time in prison, the pressure of his rivals moving in on his territory — an increasingly troublesome issue that leads to all too common shootouts and even the untimely death of Ciro's surrogate father Attilio — places the burden of running the family business on oafish but eager son Genny (Salvatore Esposito). But Genny's inability to stomach the dangerous world his father and his father's men exist within creates a fundamental problem for the organization.
This means shouldering some of the challenges are Pietro's formidable wife Imma (Maria Pia Calzone), whose presence is limited early on but eventually expands as the season wears on and her inner resilience is revealed, and the ambitious and hungry Ciro, known as the Immortal for his ability to survive in any given situation, who has a young family of his own that he's trying to protect.
There's an unrelenting bleakness blanketing Gomorrah's world — reflected in the excellent cinematography — and it's one that some viewers may find to be too much or too familiar depending on their preferences and history with the so-called Golden Age of TV. This heaviness frequently threatens to suffocate the conflicted men and women trapped within the series' walls, but amid the personal struggles and sacrifices, and beyond the bloody trail of drugs and money that the show's warring criminal enterprises leave in their wake, is a story about a particular place, not just the people stuck in its never-ending cycle of violence. You owe it to yourself to pay attention to the complex story it's telling, regardless of how you feel about subtitles.
Gomorrah premieres Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 10/9c on SundanceTV.