History Channel // 2010 // 705 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 30th, 2011
They're fierce, brutal, and ruthless -- and bent on leaving their deadly mark on the streets of America.
There is a Magic Formula floating around in the corporate board rooms of the History Channel head office, a conceptual Golden Ticket of guaranteed success and ratings domination that has been prevalent in every History production in the last decade:
Repetition + Sensationalism = Ratings
No show illustrates this winning formula better ("winning" in the Charlie Sheen pejorative sense of the word) than Gangland, a grisly exploration into the underbelly of criminal organizations, street gangs, and violent offenders in America. Now in its seventh (and final) season, Gangland: The Final Season (Blu-Ray) is the picture of desperation, wringing the last sweet drops of creative nectar from an empty, dried-out husk. On the plus side, it's on Blu-Ray now.
Gangland takes audiences inside the dangerous, secretive, and violent world of street gangs, criminals and thugs operating in America. From prison gangs to biker gangs and drug wars to turf wars, Gangland exposes the seedy underbelly and inner workings of these terrifying organizations.
Gangland: The Final Season (Blu-Ray) contains fifteen episodes spread across three Blu-Ray discs, each episode featuring a different gang or organization:
* "Mile High Killers"
The North Side Mafia from Denver, Colorado.
* "Public Enemy Number One"
Public Enemy No. 1 (PEN1) from Southern California.
* "Most Notorious"
The seventy-fifth episode featuring the most notorious gangsters from past episodes.
* "Vendetta of Blood"
The Lincoln Park Bloods from San Diego, California.
* "A Killer's Revenge"
The Asian Boyz and the Wah Ching from California.
* "Wild Boyz"
The Wild Boyz from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
* "Better off Dead"
The Association Ñeta prison gang.
* "Capitol Killers"
The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Washington, DC.
* "Clash of the Crips"
The Crips of New York City.
* "Army of Hate"
The Aryan Republican Army in the American Midwest.
* "The Filthy Few"
The Hells Angels MC of Seattle.
* "Shoot to Kill"
Florencia 13 (Sureños) of Los Angeles.
* "Road Warriors"
The Traveling Vice Lords (People Nation).
* "Valley of Death"
The New Mexican Mafia of Phoenix, Arizona.
* "Death Before Dishonor"
The Black Mafia Family of Atlanta, GA.
On paper, I admit Gangland is a brilliant concept for a show. Crime and gang shows have been mainstays in popular culture for nearly a century, and when coupled with a voyeuristic exploration of a secret world the average North American will never know, Gangland offers that perfect heady mix of violence, danger and excitement. After seven seasons, it becomes glaringly apparent the show has run out of steam. Many argue it ran out of steam somewhere around the third season, and has just been gently coasting towards the finish line on sheer inertia. The History Channel's Magical Formula of repetition and sensationalism works great on the short term, but the longer you run a series in this fashion, the more skeletal and emaciated it becomes.
Desperation shows at every turn. The episodes all blur together in an endless montage of menacing poses and crime scene photos. The narration coalesces into a monotone drone. All the notorious and interesting gangs have already been featured in seasons past, so time to start repeating. Other shows might opt to tweak their formula and grow creatively after seven seasons, but History doggedly sticks to its Magic Formula -- tried and true -- to the bitter end. Each episode feels unnecessarily long, padded with repetition and recycled camera shots. I particularly love the overly dramatic narrator, who is just way too white to be using street expressions like "making huge bank" with any kind of convincing menace.
Need more evidence of the colossal decline of Gangland? How about the retrospective episode, hosted by Ice-T and Snoop Dogg? Nothing says "tough" like two multimillionaires glorifying the gangland violence they themselves worked so hard to escape from.
Gangland finally makes it to Blu-Ray, and it is a much-needed improvement. Criticisms of the show notwithstanding, Gangland: The Final Season (Blu-Ray) looks tight in high definition, with stylishly saturated colors, deep black levels, and high levels of detail in interviews and location shots. As with most televised documentaries, the source material varies wildly, so a good portion of the production consists of archival photographs and amateur video, so it's not a total home run. There are lots of quick cuts, shaky camera, and post-processing effects to give Gangland an unnecessary "tough" appearance.
Audio comes in a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Truth be told, I didn't get any of that magical lossless audio effect you get from a top-notch film production, but this track gets the job done well. Dialogue is clear, detail is sharp, bass response is more active than average and the soundtrack of ominous music cues and rap music suits the production well. English subtitles are included, although there are some strange grammatical issues -- words that should be capitalized are all in lower-case, little things like that.
There are no extras or supplements included, unless you count the two episodes that were conspicuously missing from Gangland: The Complete Season Six. I guess this explains why History broke with the naming convention and called it the "Final Season," not the "Seventh Season."
The thing I find the most distressing watching Gangland is the unsettled and anxious feeling I get with each passing episode. Repetitiveness, I can deal with. Sensationalism, I can tolerate. However, the glorification of violent gang culture feels...dirty somehow, inherently perverse. Watching young thugs pose menacingly with guns cocked, sneering and laughing at their own awesomeness, History has created a Billboard Top 100 Gang chart. You can almost see smaller gangs chortling and high-fiving their success at getting featured on Gangland, because now they're famous, baby.
A show past its prime, Gangland: The Final Season (Blu-Ray) has solid technical chops, but its repetitive and sensationalist glorification of violence and gang culture just feels too much like free advertising for gangs. If there is enjoyment here, I can't find it.
Lock this one up and throw away the key.
Review content copyright © 2011 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 705 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site