Like most new streaming services, AMC+ is building its slate of originals by purchasing U.S. rights to shows made overseas. The two originals it debuted during its launch earlier this month were The Salisbury Poisonings and Gangs Of London. The latter show, a sprawling action drama revolving around the death of an organized crime kingpin, has already been picked up for a second season, which will be produced by AMC. Like Salisbury, the first season of Gangs will debut on the cable version of AMC in 2021.
Opening Shot: We see the London skyline upside down. As we pan back, we realize that the skyline is from the perspective of someone being waking up and realizing that he’s being hung from a rooftop by one foot.
The Gist: The man begs the person who’s hanging him from that roof to not kill him,. But the man who’s doing this says, “But I have to,” right before he pours gas on the rope and the man, sets it afire, and watches as the rope burns through, dropping the captive, already burning to death, hurtling to the pavement.
A week earlier, we see a nervous young man named Darren (Aled Ap Steffan) waits for a text on a burner phone. When he gets it, we see him and his buddy Ioan (Darren Evans) leave the trailer park where they live to go to a dark apartment building in Little Albania. He’s there to make a drug deal, and he goes into the empty apartment, gun in his waistband. In the meantime, Ioan, waiting in the car, is bothered by young members of the Albanian mafia, who end up scrambling off when an expensive car pulls up.
Out of the car walks Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney), London’s biggest crime boss. Wallace’s driver Jack (Emmett J Scanlan) sees Ioan and tries to scare him off. But as we see Wallace go up the elevator, we also see Darren cowering behind the door. When he sees that it’s Wallace, he shoots the big boss through the peephole, then shoots him dead when Wallace tries to grab his gun. When the two guys drive off, Ioan manages to upend Jack as he chases them.
At Wallace’s funeral, his son Sean (Joe Cole) is seething; he has no idea who put the hit on his father, but he has his suspicions. All of London’s organized criminal activity runs through his dad, and there is any number of people who would want to bump his father off. Ed Dumani (Lucian Msamati), whose family have been close associates of the Wallaces for many years, calls a meeting of the various organizations whose businesses run through the Wallace family; they all want business to keep going. Even though Dumani gives them assurances that it will, Sean comes into the meeting and says all business will stop until his father’s killer is found. Again, he has his suspicions, but no one has been identified as the obvious killer.
In the meantime, Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu), a former cop who now works for a low-level Wallace associate named Jim (David Bradley) insinuates himself into the Wallaces’ investigation when Ed’s son Alex (Paapa Essiedu) gets CCTV video from outside the building. He knows who is in the van that seemed to pick up an unconscious Jack. It’s one of the Alabanians that have stationed themselves in the pub across from the funeral. He chases the one he’s looking for down as the Wallaces and Dumanis beat the snot out of the Albanians and finds out just where Jack is being kept.
Our Take: There is a lot to keep track of on Gangs Of London, which first aired on Sky and whose second season has already been picked up by AMC. Creators Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery have set up a complicated picture of all the different gangs whose business runs through the Wallaces, with representatives from all over the Eastern Hemisphere. Irish, Welsh travelers, Albanians, Pakistanis, Kurds, Africans (we’re not sure where the Dumanis are from)… all vying for a piece of the business that Finn Wallace left behind.
If all Gangs of London was about was Sean’s unhinged pursuit of his father’s killer and Elliot’s (maybe) undercover infiltration of the Wallace/Dumani gang, that would be more than enough. But we’re not only asked to keep track of all of these other interests, but family drama within at least the main two families. In the Wallace family, there’s Finn’s wife Marian (Michelle Fairley), who is fiercely protective of her young son Billy (Brian Vernel), a recovering addict; there’s also Jacqueline Robinson (Valene Kane), another Wallace scion who tries to distance herself from her family’s activities. Alex Dumani’s sister Shannon (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is a single mother who reluctantly exposes her child to her family’s shenanigans.
It feels like there’s about three shows going on at once here. The plot of the first episode was pretty straightforward, despite all the characters we have to keep track of; what we hope is that the remaining eight episodes of the first season are equally as straightforward. There’s such a danger that, with such a massive, complex cast, that the storytelling can go astray as we follow the various threads each group participates in. The other danger is that these associated groups that run their businesses through the Wallaces will be reduced to stereotypes. The path for Evans and Flannery is to play things as simply as possible, but we’re not sure if that’s going to happen.
Sex and Skin: Nothing.
Parting Shot: When Elliot finds out that the Albanians have Jack, he demands that he be taken to the now-awake driver.
Sleeper Star: You don’t cast Colm Meaney in the role of the big boss just to see him get shot within the first ten minutes. We’ll obviously see him in flashbacks, interacting with Sean, Ed and some of the other bosses.
Most Pilot-y Line: The action sequence when Elliot fights through the Albanians as he chases the van driver down felt like we were watching a different series than the somewhat gritty and realistic one that came before it. The fight scenes felt a bit stagey, where it seemed that Elliot was superhuman and/or the Albanians had no idea how to fight.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Despite all our reservations, we’re recommending Gangs Of London because it feels like the story is going to be relatively straightforward, despite all the characters that will need to be addressed. At least that’s what we hope will happen.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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