Is Gomorrah the Italian version of The Wire?
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The Wire is often called the greatest television programme ever made.
While shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad aren't exactly light-weights in the drama department, they cannot begin to touch The Wire for sheer scale.
An uncompromising look at a city and it's inhabitants from both sides of the law, The Wire was unlike anything anyone had seen before.
Guided by the singular vision of David Simon - a former Baltimore Sun reporter turned TV writer - the show achieved the near impossible in telling a comprehensive story of a city that is, at once, gritty, funny, ugly, hopeful and bleak.
We thought we'd never see another show that could come even close. That was before we watched Gomorrah.
Much like The Wire, Gomorrah began life as a first-person account of a city drowning in crime.
Simon's two books - Homicide: A Year On The Killing Street and The Corner - can be seen as precursors to The Wire. Simon spent a year riding alongside Baltimore homicide detectives and his exhaustive research would provide much of the rich detail that makes The Wire feel so real.
Simon so ingratiated himself with the cops and robbers he met along the way that several of them made cameos in the show.
This was not the case for Simon's Italian counterpart and Gomorrah creator Roberto Saviano.
In 2006, the young writer published his book Gamorra, an in-depth chronicle of the Camorra, an Italian Mafia-type crime society which dates back to the 16th century. Saviano's name was firmly on the map but it came with a high price. After a near constant flood of death threats, Saviano has been under constant police escort for the last decade.
Clip via thecultbox
A cinematic adaption was released in 2008 and won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. The film, executive produced by Goodfellas & The Departed director Martin Scorsese, told the interconnecting tales of people involved in the Naples drug world, from the street-level crime in the underprivileged neighbourhoods to the power struggles behind the bullet-proof doors of the Don's mansion.
The film begins with two teenage idiots talking about how the crime-riddled town is theirs for the taking. At the film's half way point, they've come into machine guns which they swing around with abandon while re-enacting their favourite bits from Scarface.
By the time the closing credits run * SPOILER ALERT * these two would-be masters of a criminal empire are being helped into a landfill via a bulldozer. This is what the Camorra do with their problems. There are no second chances, no redos. In the pursuit of power, everything is at stake and the smallest mistake can cost you your life. Power and the relative cost of human life are both themes that prevail throughout the series.
Naples is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan. Unlike these two metropoles, Naples is one of the poorest places in Europe. Tourists are frequently recommended to give it a miss for safety reasons. It's a cycle of urban decay without any firm solution on display. The region is synonymous with criminality which isn't very attractive to legitimate business people. This non-investment allows criminal enterprises to flourish. Even citizens with no interest in breaking the law will eventually be sucked in, chewed up and spat out while the crime bosses quietly continue to accrue insane levels of profit.
Clip via Nordic Noir & Beyond
The show focuses on Don Pietro Savastano, one of the most feared and respected mob bosses in the region. Alongside Pietro is his wife and literal partner-in-crime Imma, their feckless son Genny and the family's right hand man Ciro. The first series kicks off with Ciro's burning of the apartment of a rival's mother. Ciro is also tasked with preparing Genny to assume his father's role as the head of the crime syndicate.
The Savastano's story plays out like a 21st century Godfather.
Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Genny been distanced from the world of organised crime. However, Michael went to study in Dartmouth and volunteered in World War II. Genny acts like a petulant child with a libido and a limitless credit card.
Aware that her spoiled, lazy millennial son is ill-equipped to take over the family business, Imma sends Genny to the deepest, darkest, cruelest jungle on earth where her son has two options: be killed or become a killer. We don't spend too much time with Genny in his own personal hell but we know it involves machetes and he comes back with a new found murderous streak.
The tension between Genny and Ciro as they compete for the mantle of future Don provides the backdrop for a lot of the drama in the first season while the respective families engage in a violent game of eye-for-an-eye.
A life of crime
"...you have to promise me something. Never trust anyone. Never." - Genny
While unlikely to be endorsed by the Naples Board Of Tourism anytime soon, the show has highlighted some of the root problems in the city. To experience Gomorrah is the closest thing to experiencing a city you can get without leaving the comfort of your own house.
It's a dangerous place with more than it's share of dodgy characters but like Baltimore in The Wire it's positively pulsating with life.