For a municipality that is older than Rome Naples has had a far greater impact upon European culture than is commonly recognised. The poet Virgil lived there. The Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio spent his formative years on its streets and it was where Caravaggio painted some of his finest works. Not to mention that it was a Neapolitan called Giambattista Basile who first wrote down many of Europe’s folk fables.
Peter Robb in his book ‘Street Fight in Naples’ describes the city as a “dense impasto of soft yellow tufo and hardened black lava and chips of brilliant white marble, of bits of Greek wall and Roman amphitheatre, of cavities and blocked water springs and unexploded bombs, of bricks and tiles and seashells and used syringes.” Which means that the city hadn’t changed much from when the Spanish conquered it at the beginning of the sixteenth century, when they found it “a very rundown city whose whole infrastructure badly needed making over”.
It is against a reasonable facsimile of this backdrop that Gomorrah (pun intended) takes place. Based upon Roberto Saviano’s 2006 bestseller about the Camorra – a work which got him greenlit by his book’s protagonists – the TV series is set and shot in Scampia and Secondigliano like the 2008 film of the same name.
Gomorrah has all familiar elements of gangster narrative: ambitious footsoldiers, rival crime families muscling in, a militant matriarch, and a surplus of boys trying to prove they’re men. However unlike Mob operas derived from The Godfather or Sopranos template, Gomorrah places much more emphasis on the clan members integral to the day-to-day running of operations. Those links between the order and the action; the impact and the consequences.
Most notably a portrait of corruption, cynicism, intimidation and greed, Gomorrah is also a reasonably sombre but well-paced study of crime in urban Naples that plays well within the constraints of the gangster paradigm. Comparisons to David Simon’s The Wire aren’t unreasonable; the show’s aspirations to cinematic majesty contrast well with the angst-fuelled drama. Although it’s quite likely that the blissful ignorance of my ears to the intricacies of Neapolitan make me more susceptible to its charms than the patois of Baltimore cornerboys.
A very worthy drama but perhaps not quite the epic its scope would have you believe.
Gomorrah is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Download now