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If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another Italian mafia series. Mob shows have become the go-to genre for the Italian industry, the global success of shows like Gomorrah (on HBO in the U.S.) and Suburra (on Netflix) having spawned several (mostly inferior) imitations.
The series, which bowed on Amazon worldwide in early December, breaks new ground in how the mafia and the forces that fight organized crime, are depicted on Italian TV.
The series, set in a near-future Sicily, stars Luigi Lo Cascio (The Traitor, The Best Of Youth) as Nino Scotellaro, a former anti-mob prosecutor imprisoned on trumped-up charges of collusion with the Cosa Nostra. Furious at the injustice, he vows revenge. Over the course of the six-episode first season, Nino goes from very good to very, very bad, as he crosses every moral line — including resulting to murder — in his search for vengeance.
That alone is something new for Italian TV. The lawyers that fight the mafia are — on the small screen at least — typically shown as modern-day saints. Not so Nino Scotellaro. He’s a man whose taste for retribution is only rivaled by his love for fine food and good cigars. The series takes obvious inspiration from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul in depicting the transformation of a good man into something altogether darker.
The RAI series The Hunter, starring Francesco Montanari as a prosecutor who bends the law to get mobsters behind bars, opened the door to more human, flawed depictions of anti-mob lawyers in Italy. But where The Hunter pushed the envelope, The Bad Guy tears the envelope apart and throws it into the trash.
Early in the series, The Bad Guy directors Giuseppe G. Stasi and Giancarlo Fontana, alongside screenwriters Ludovica Rampoldi and Davide Serino, make their break with tradition explicit. Through the show, we see characters watching a fictional TV series depicting the murder of Nino’s father-in-law, a saintly prosecutor killed in a mob bombing. It’s a none-too-subtle dig at how Italian TV, the public broadcasters in particular, like to tell their mafia stories in clear tones of black and white.
Stasi and Fontana started their careers as satirists, making a name for themselves with spoof online videos that referenced pop culture and American movies to poke fun at current affairs and Italian politics. They’ve worked with some of the biggest names in Italian comedy, including Sabina Guzzanti and Neri Marcorè, and directed the 2018 feature hit Put Grandma in the Freezer (Metti la nonna in freezer) before turning their camera on the mafia with The Bad Guy.
That comic background comes out in the humor that runs through The Bad Guy, which feels more inspired by Quentin Tarantino than Francis Ford Coppola. It’s also expressed in the style of the series, which features rapid-style editing and a keen ear for musical cues and needle drops.
Although entirely fictional, The Bad Guy makes ample use of official sources and regional detail — not least the use of Sicilian spoken throughout, necessitating subtitles even for fluent Italian speakers — to create a credible and effectively three-dimensional world for Nino Scotellaro and his mob adversaries.
This is all very new, and very welcome, for Italian TV. Here’s hoping the international success of The Bad Guy — the show premiered Dec. 8 on Amazon’s top 10 most watched shows in the U.S. — will lead to a second season and a lot more imitators back home.
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