Gomorrah (Sky Atlantic, Monday), the new, must-see Mafioso series, started promisingly. We met two hoods — one young, shaven-headed, good-looking; one weary, brow-beaten, middle-aged — filling up at a petrol station in Naples, an unfamiliar (to me anyway) setting that looks promisingly like a cross between Vegas and downtown Gaza. Clearly they were up to no good.
Meanwhile, in a decrepit apartment block, an elderly mamma was preparing her beloved, twentysomething son a rather delicious-looking pasta dinner. She chastised him for smoking at the dinner table. The son tried explaining, to no avail, that this was an E-cigarette, not a real one. Mamma wasn’t having it. She said grace and her nicely brought up if wayward boy crossed himself piously. (The old religion dies hard in Naples.)
Then, horror. The two hoods, it turned out, were on a mission to torch the apartment with the petrol they’d just picked up from the station. We rather hoped Mamma and her boy would survive. They didn’t. The last we saw of them was mother and son, hugging one another tight in the running shower and praying as the paint on the walls of their bathroom blistered ominously.
Cut to the two hoods, in their petrol-smelling clothes, enjoying a celebratory drink with friends before retiring home. Both, it turned out, were loving parents of sweet children whom they kissed tenderly as they slept in their beds. Just another ordinary working day, Naples-Camorra-style.
Where Gomorrah differs from the Godfather trilogy, The Sopranos or Goodfellas is in its near-total absence of glamour or sentiment. At no point do you envy these people or imagine there is any hope for them. As the creator of the series, Roberto Saviano, told the Telegraph: ‘If you watch it all the way through, the question you’re left with at the end is: “But I thought these guys were supposed to have an amazing life?” The life they lead is crap. They live like rats in a trap.’
This is why Saviano can’t live in Italy any more. Since publishing his book Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia, he has been living under police protection in New York after receiving death threats from two Camorra godfathers. Presumably, they would have preferred a version of events where they were shown regularly giving money to charidee and stroking cute white kittens in a non-sinister way. In this regard, Saviano’s series — fictionalised but based on real incidents — most definitely doesn’t deliver.
As with the similarly relentlessly bleak universe of Game Of Thrones, your challenge is to find the least unattractive characters and identify, faute de mieux, with them. Step forward Ciro (Marco D’Amore), the young, bald hood from the opening scene. We know, despite all the bad things he does, that his heart’s in the right place because whenever he embarks against his better judgment on another grisly, counterproductive assignment, he announces to anyone who’ll listen: ‘This is crap.’ Also, he has an extremely hot girlfriend whom, with luck, we shall see naked on many occasions.
Ciro’s crime boss is very promising too. Not because he’s remotely likeable, per Tony Soprano, but because he’s intransigent, ruthless and incompetent. While the first two may be qualities in a Camorra capo, the last one most definitely isn’t. At the end of the first episode — plot spoiler alert, if I haven’t spoiled the plot for you enough already — his determination to take immediate revenge for a slight rather than remembering it is a dish best served cold leads to the needless sacrifice of his associates.
You don’t need to be Nostradamus to appreciate that this is going to work out badly for him. (And — no doubt — for his fat, hot-headed, even more useless son; though probably not for his foxy wife with whom, one suspects, Ciro is going to become perilously embroiled.) Besides being handsome, apparently indestructible and with — did I mention this? — a fine-looking girlfriend, Ciro is driven and intelligent. He is not about to throw away his life on the say-so of a boss he doesn’t respect. Machiavellian power struggles ahoy!
And if the brutality of Gomorrah still isn’t quite enough to sate your low appetite, I recommend Dance Moms (Lifetime, Monday). This is a reality series of almost unimaginable savagery and cruelty about a Pittsburgh dance-school boss called Abby Lee Miller who makes Don Corleone look like Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?. She makes moms weep; she makes little girls cry — all in her brutal quest to become the capo di tutti capi in the medievally vicious world of American dance talent competitions.
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