After a long, hard day of social distancing, why would anybody want to settle in with a dark, bloody drama about dog-eat-dog warfare among rival drug gangs?
Well, perhaps because escapism can take all kinds of forms, and quality is its own justification. Whatever the reason, I can’t stop watching “Gomorrah,’’ an unrelentingly intense Italian series, set in Naples, whose first two seasons are available on Netflix, in Italian with English subtitles.
What strikes an American viewer about “Gomorrah’’ is its utter lack of sentimentality and its ice-cold realism, perhaps because it is based on a nonfiction book by series creator Roberto Saviano. Conditioned by American crime dramas, we often expect the protagonist to be a good-bad guy, no matter how high a body count he racks up. We see, or think we see, glimmers of humanity and the possibility of redemption in a Tony Soprano or a Walter White.
Such glimpses are almost nonexistent in “Gomorrah.’’ Its drug traffickers are utterly ruthless. They include Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino), the eerily impassive head of a Mafia-like crime family; Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), an ambitious “soldier’’ who breaks away from the Savastanos and becomes their No. 1 enemy; and Gennaro (Genny) Savastano (Salvatore Esposito), Pietro’s son, who transforms emotionally and physically from goofy wastrel to intimidating gangster.
As the clans battle over “dealing spots,’’ control over neighborhoods, and broader political dominance, the suspense seldom lets up. Alliances are no sooner arranged than they rupture in a fusillade of gunfire. The police seem largely powerless. And the citizenry? They’re relegated to the status of helpless pawns at best, victims at worst.
Beyond its grim particulars, Saviano’s narco-drama amounts to a chilling study of raw power: its acquisition, its uses, its tragic consequences when it falls into the wrong hands. Not that there are any right hands in “Gomorrah.’’