'Gang Related,' 'The Normal Heart' premiere

Posted: May 23, 2014

* GANG RELATED. 9 tonight, Fox 29.

* THE NORMAL HEART. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

- Michael Corleone,

"Godfather III"

It's not easy going legit when crime pays so well, but that's never stopped fictional gangsters from trying.

From "Sons of Anarchy" to "Breaking Bad," TV's most notorious bad guys tend to be like those people who are always planning to quit smoking - next year.

Next year's probably never going to come for Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis), the semi-sympathetic villain in Fox's new "Gang Related," who's peddling the I-want-to-go-straight line even as he's arranging for his organization, Los Angelicos, to corner the market on a new strain of heroin.

Which puts his secret almost-son, Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez), in a bit of a fix.

Lopez, befriended as a fatherless boy by the powerful Acosta, joined the LAPD at his patron's behest and has worked his way up to the very same task force that's out to bring Acosta down.

Already torn between competing father figures ("Lost's" Terry O'Quinn plays the task force boss, who gives Lopez a really cool gun in tonight's premiere), Lopez is about to become even more conflicted, as one of Acosta's actual sons (the one who's more like Sonny Corleone than Michael) steps way over the line.

Maybe the writers sensed they were drawing a bit too heavily on "The Godfather," but "Gang Related" makes some effort to flesh out the law-enforcement side, with RZA ("Californication"), Sung Kang and Inbar Lavi playing Lopez's fellow task force members (Lavi even gets a storyline all her own).

It's useless, though, because as badly as the members of Los Angelicos behave, they're always going to be more interesting than the people trying to shut them down.

And yet not quite interesting enough to keep me watching as they chase the legitimacy they're never going to catch.

A 'Heart' still on attack

"The blood that's coursing through 'The Normal Heart' . . . is boiling hot," wrote the New York Times' Frank Rich when the Larry Kramer play debuted at Manhattan's Public Theater in 1985.

The review appears in the Times' online database with appended responses from both then-Mayor Ed Koch and the paper itself - both take a beating in Kramer's story of a character much like himself trying to stir people to action in the early years of the AIDS epidemic - and says of the playwright that he "starts off angry, soon gets furious and then skyrockets into sheer rage."

Kramer's rage, fresh and visceral then, may strike viewers differently now, after the Tonys for the 2011 revival and decades of accolades have enshrined "The Normal Heart" as part of the canon. Marriage equality, not death from a disease once little understood, gets the headlines now.

But just as HIV/AIDS isn't vanquished, rage is still undeniably present in the high-profile adaptation Ryan Murphy ("Glee") brings to HBO on Sunday, with Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" (in the role he played on Broadway in 2011), Alfred Molina, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch and Jonathan Groff.

And though the supporting cast members are all good (Parsons particularly so) it's Kramer's fury, channeled through Ruffalo's manic energy as the writer's alter-ego Ned Weeks, that keeps "The Normal Heart" beating and preserves a horrific bit of all too recent history not in amber, but in anger.


Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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