Six seasons in and it’s hard to believe that the History Channel’s Gangland hasn’t run out of material by now. It says either something good about the show’s ability to continually mine gang life and organized crime in America or something bad about America in that they haven’t run out of material. Either way it hasn’t ceased to be strong television.
Gangland is a TV documentary series that focuses on gangs throughout the United States. From “motorcycle clubs” like the Hell’s Angels and the Mongrols, prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, skinhead groups and gangs of all colors, Gangland has a fairly simple format that it follows strictly. And while it can get a little repetitive, especially considering they cover similar territory often enough, the show has evolved its presentation enough that the basic formula is still fresh.
Following a particular gang from its origins through the present day, law enforcement officials combine with current & former members to present a balanced, nuanced look at gang life throughout the country. Providing context as to how the gang came to be through archival footage and (in some cases) those who were there for it, Gangland gives a proper context to the proceedings as well. It’s in the context where we find understanding in regards to all of this, giving the proper way to truly understand the criminal mindset en masse.
We get to see why gangs came into existence, such as how many motorcycle gangs were started by military veterans affected by various wars, and how they’ve progressed into their current forms. It becomes fascinating to see how gangs of various minority groups all have things in common such as forming to protect one another from majority groups; comparing the Portland, OR white supremacist group Volksfront to any number of minority gangs is amusing because they do and say many of the same things and are organized in similar ways.
This season had a much stronger Hispanic theme than in seasons past, tackling offshoots of the Surenos and Norternos prison gangs as well as other major Hispanic gangs located across the country. Throwing in the occasional white supremacist group, as well as a couple African-American street gangs, season six concentrates heavily on a more Latin influence perhaps to reflect the growing Latin gang population in the country.
The show is still remarkably intense and focused, finding ways to continue to make what is remarkably dark material into something more fascinating than disturbing. Crime is an easy subject to do but difficult to do well and the History Channel has only made minor aesthetic changes to a well running machine. This is still a terrific documentary program that covers gang life in America in a gritty manner. It’s hard not to get sucked into the show, able to keep itself focused as well as appeal to those joining midway through without going over the same material constantly.
It’s hard to imagine that Gangland will ever run out of material, considering the nature of crime and criminals in this country. When it does it’ll be a shame, in a way, because this is one of the best shows on television.
Presented in a DTS-HD format, the show looks terrific on Blu-ray. This isn’t a colorful series, nor is it one that necessarily requires a high definition format, but it takes advantage of it significantly by bringing out the grime of the series.
Bonus Footage is a 15 minute piece of collected footage from various episodes that just didn’t make the cut. There isn’t anything of note or value in it.
At times it may be hard to watch because of its graphic material but Gangland is one of the History Channel’s better shows because of it. Refusing to pull punches when it comes to discussing criminals, it’s a look into a world foreign to most but fascinating nonetheless.
The History Channel presents Gangland (Season 6). Running time: 517 minutes. Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray and DVD: November 16, 2010.
Tags: crime, gangland, history channel