Mob TV is hard to get right. But when it’s done right, oh boy, it is good. The Sopranos, which ran from 1999-2007, set the benchmark extremely high – with its complex characters, spell-binding performances and divisive ending. Boardwalk Empire, starring Steve Buscemi, wasn’t far behind and Italian drama Gomorrah became an international hit in just two seasons in recent years.
That ignores the inevitable failures that never quite cracked the mainstream – take Netflix’s Lilyhammer and er, the short-lived Mob Doctor which ran for a mere 13 episodes. Both textbook examples of shows with cartoonish bosses, stereotypical goons and wack storylines.
So it’s with trepidation that Italian-language show, Suburra: Blood On Rome – Netflix’s latest foray into original programming arrives – though it turns out, there was no need for scepticism. Here’s why Suburra is heading on the path to mob-pantheon.
It’s got a unique plot
Let’s set the scene then. It’s 2008 and the mayor of Rome has just resigned for unknown reasons. A vacuum of power opens with a new government imminent, and all the suitors are lining up with some shady characters desperate to get their grubby hands on the power. This arrives at a time when a valuable piece of land just outside of Rome is being put up for sale by the Vatican. The government want it, the mob wants it and new small-time gangsters want their slice. It gets messy.
Meanwhile, three young crooks, Aureliano, Spadino and Lele stumble on a gift. A highly-placed Vatican official falls sick at a sex and drug-fuelled orgy – and there’s a video of his transgressions that he’ll do anything to stop from emerging. They’ve got the video and a blackmail campaign consumes. But why is the official so important? Well, he heads the committee that decides who to sell that all-important land to.
It’s a smart, twisting tale. Just let yourself bathe in it’s gritty complexity.
The characters are complex – but believable
The show is based around six main characters, though each brings something different to the show. The mob boss, Samurai, is withdrawn and calculating, and has groomed honest official Amedeo Cinaglia to run for Mayor – but with his own agenda at play.
The three crooks, Aureliano, Spadino and Lele each bring their own cultural and personal baggage to the cunning scheme – and caught in the middle is Sara Monaschi, an auditor who sits on the Vatican commission. Who also is having an affair with Lele. Told you it was all a bit confusing.
The setting is perfect
Gomorrah succeeded in its tale of gritty tale of Naples’ drug empire by filming within the city, and focusing on the dingy apartment blocks and run-down communities that had been consumed by the trade.
Suburra, meanwhile, is set in the glitz and glamour of central Rome and The Vatican with grandiose churches and swanky ballrooms. All of this perfectly suits the high-stakes political maneuvering plot line.
It avoids all the tropes
The theme of respect runs through each mob drama. The people at the top demand it and the newbies at the bottom crave it. And while The Sopranos dealt with it in subtle ways with characters like Christopher and Ralphie – Suburra does that same, by not making it so bloody obvious.
Aureliano, son of a small-time mobster feels pushed out and disrespected by his own father. Spadino is from the ‘gypsy’ community and is forced into an arranged marriage by his controlling brother and Lele is the son of a cop – but wants to break out of his shadow. Daddy issues all round, sure. But each of the crooks want respect and want to achieve it on their own terms, setting us up for an explosive bunch of characters. Watch this space, because it only gets messier from here.