Case Number 16060: Small Claims Court


History Channel // 2008 // 564 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 3rd, 2009

The Charge

They're fierce, brutal, and ruthless -- and bent on leaving their deadly mark on the streets of America.

The Case

In many ways, this may be the best season yet of Gangland. While viewers should still check out earlier seasons to get caught up on gangs referenced here like the Norteños and the Outlaws, this season is overall the most varied and incisive. There are still a few odd choices here and there, but in its third season Gangland toned down the excessive sensationalism and overreliance on the same three or four gangs that sometimes marred earlier seasons. It remains the best non-fiction show to discuss the history of current gangs in America.

Gangland: The Complete Season Three has twelve episodes collected on three discs:

Disc One
"Death in Dixie"
When a conglomeration of five Latino gangs came together under the name of La Gran Familia (The Big Family) in the 1990s, the streets of Atlanta became a blood-soaked war zone.

"California Killing Fields"
Cambodian immigrants who escaped the brutality of the Khmer Rouge immigrated to California in the 1970s, but their children formed a brutal gang named the Tiny Rascals Gangsters who were just as vicious.

"The Devil's Playground"
Satan's Disciples is not only one of the most violent gangs in Chicago, but it's the only one that encourages members to use legitimate employment to benefit the gang's coffers.

"Blood in the Streets"
In the 1990s, Hartford, Connecticut, saw the rise of a vicious new gang, Los Solidos (The Solid Ones), who terrorized the streets with violence that spared no one, not even children.

Disc Two
"From Heaven to Hell"
Salt Lake City might be the last place one would expect to find violent street gangs, but the rise of gangs like the Crips there has led to some horrific crimes.

"Bandido Army"
The Bandidos are second only to the Hell's Angels as the world's biggest international outlaw biker gang, and their predilection for violence makes them just as dangerous.

"Menace of Destruction"
Hmong immigrants from China who felt victimized by racism formed gangs for self-protection in the 1980s. The biggest of them all, the shadowy and secretive Menace of Destruction, has evolved into the most dangerous gang in Minnesota's Twin Cities region.

"Rage Against Society"
F.S.U., or Fuck Shit Up, formed as a gang of teens in the 1980s who enforced anti-drug and anti-Nazi rules at hardcore punk shows, but their violence has begun to spill over into outright hooliganism.

Disc Three
"Paid in Blood"
Outlaw motorcycle gang the Warlocks has only a fraction of the membership of other biker clubs, but their grip on the state of Florida is so absolute that much larger clubs like the Outlaws cannot break it.

"Die, Snitch, Die"
The Gotti Boys rule the streets of New Orleans with such savagery and might that even the disaster of Hurricane Katrina was unable to dislodge them.

"To Torture or to Kill?"
Los Zetas (The Zs) began as the hired guns for Mexico's biggest drug cartels, but their savagery and ambitions have made them the rulers of the criminal underworld in Mexico and they've increasingly begun to infiltrate every border state in the United States.

"All Hell Breaks Loose"
Zoe Pound may claim to be Miami's largest Haitian pride organization, but most observers consider them a bloodthirsty gang of killers and hijackers who torture and murder for both money and thrills.

For this season, Gangland has definitely uncovered some remarkable stories that deserve to be told. The episodes devoted to F.S.U., Menace of Destruction, and Los Zetas are the most fascinating, delving into unusual cultures that are so rarely explored on TV. The episode on Los Zetas in particular is vitally important to understanding the current crisis in Mexico and is the sort of overall investigative look at crime that news networks should be doing but too often are not. Yes, many of the stories told here are graphic and gruesome, and there's some footage that some viewers will find disturbing, but that's only to be expected from a true crime show. This season, in fact, relies less on bloody crime scene photos and explicit footage than the previous one. The episode on Satan's Disciples, for instance, is surprisingly light on graphic violence and focuses more on the biographical and sociological aspects of the gang.

The choices made this season are also much more varied than on the previous ones. There's only one episode on the Crips, for instance, instead of the usual three or four per season and that one can be excused on the grounds that the whole story on gangs in Utah is curious, to say the least. It's also more interesting to learn about gangs in less-celebrated cities like Hartford and Minneapolis-St. Paul rather than always focusing on Chicago and Los Angeles. These may seem like odd choices, but given that the impact the gangs profiled on these episodes had was nationwide, they wind up paying off in fascinating stories. There are also more interviews with current and former gang members than on previous episodes, and while some of their stories might be unsettling, this first-person perspective is the only way outsiders can get a real idea of what life in each gang is really like.

True, there are still a couple of odd decisions here. While it's great that the show has finally done an episode on the Bandidos, who are the Hell's Angels' biggest and deadliest rivals, it's hard to understand why the show on the Warlocks was necessary. The gang is tiny and, judging by its story, hasn't done much of importance. Why not do an episode on the only major outlaw biker gang that hasn't yet been profiled, the Pagans? Also, longtime Gangland viewers will recall that one of the first and best episodes the series ever did was on the white supremacist prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood. That episode has yet to be released on any of the season DVD sets. It would have made a great extra on this set, but it isn't here.

The extras that are included are interesting, though a bit skimpy. Each disc comes with about eight minutes of additional footage, examining various issues of gang culture from symbols and religion to torture and names. These are actually taken from all three seasons, not just this one, so viewers who haven't seen previous seasons might not recognize some of the references seen here. Nonetheless, these are so well-assembled that it's hard not to wish they were longer and more thorough. This still marks an improvement over the Season Two set, which didn't come with any extras. The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital Stereo mix are both satisfactory.

Ultimately, Gangland: The Complete Season Three is yet another winning entry in this series. Though newcomers might want to check out some previous episodes first just to get an introduction, longtime fans of the show should have no problem adding this set to their collections.

The Verdict

Unlike virtually every single person seen here, Gangland: The Complete Season Three is not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 564 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Additional Footage

* IMDb

* Official Site