TV Review: Where Welsh Drama ‘Bang’ Series 1 Goes Off Target

by Rachel Bellwoar

To say Season One of Bang is about a gun is truthful, but it’s that definitive article, “a,” that’s important. Bang is a new Welsh drama streaming on Acorn TV and there are a lot of ways it embodies Wales, from how its characters effortlessly switch back and forth between Welsh and English to its locations, with the steelworks and wind turbines of Port Talbot.

It’s Wales’ gun laws that might be the most foreign to American viewers. There’s no reason you couldn’t do an American show tracking a gun being passed from owner to owner, but the availability of guns in the states, including those carried by law officers, would make it a very different show. An entire police station wouldn’t be absorbed in the retrieval of one gun. Gina (Catrin Stewart) wouldn’t be asked if she needed counseling after finding one body. Used to American dramas, where a character carrying a gun isn’t unusual, the weight and alarm this gun raises in Wales makes you think, and not in an easy way, about the United States.
Every gun should be talked about with the weight and consideration that the gun on Bang gets talked about – it’s a lethal firearm – but while that premise has power, there’s a lot about the show that doesn’t work. Sam (Jacob Ifan) and Gina are siblings. One day, when Sam was a kid, he wanted to stay at the beach longer, so Gina left with their mom (Nia Roberts) while their dad (Justin Sysum) stayed with him. On the way home, their dad was shot and killed in front of Sam and his death has haunted Sam ever since.
Cut to the present, and Gina is a police officer while Sam lives with his nan (Gillian Elisa), over a bad relationship with his stepdad (Chris Reilly). When new neighbors move into the house next door, one of them asks Sam to hold a package for her (Rebecca Hayes). Sam agrees but the package ends up containing a gun and when Sam tries to give it back, she tells him he has to keep it for a while. Then Sam shoots the gun off in the street. And shoots it again. And suddenly Sam doesn’t want to give the gun away, but carries it around everywhere.

While there’s a clear psychology to the decisions made on Bang, the show doesn’t go into detail about them. Maybe that’s how it would be in real life, but the consequences end up being quite serious and Sam never reacts. You always see people making bad decisions, when they’re trying not to get caught, but you don’t see people deliberately hold onto the gun that would incriminate them and his constancy through everything that happens gets eerie. When you meet Sam you never see his life going this route, so Bang does test your impression of who criminals are and how much their crimes should define them, but because Sam doesn’t change it’s a wait for him to get caught, instead of an emotional journey.
This particular firearm is part of an investigation Gina’s looking into (Port Talbot is presented as a small town but perhaps too small for the various interconnections that come up), but while she suspects Sam’s neighbor, Rhys (Matthew Aubrey), is involved she never considers her brother. Maybe, as hard as Sam is to read, he would respond the way that he does but the police officers are unforgivable. Everyone, including Gina, is compromised at some point. While Sam has his gun problems, Gina’s gunning for a promotion and the requirements of the job continuously fall second to personal agendas and career advancement. This isn’t The Shield, where cops bending the rules was what you signed up for, and it’s done so casually, like it’s ok, when it’s really, really not.
I’ve said it before but the cop dating her married boss trope needs to be retired and it’s amazing how many less problems Sam would have if he made sure to lock the doors and limit the number of people with keys.
The sibling angle was one of the aspects that attracted me most to the series, but Gina and Sam live pretty separate lives. While they hold different takes on a lot of things, like whether their stepdad’s a good guy, you never see them hash out those differences on screen and the only relationship that comes to any resolution is Sam’s relationship with his mother.
While the show presents a story about a gun and its corruptive influence, there are occasions where Bang flirts with glorifying the weapon (the opening credits, where a gun is featured, feel unintendedly gross). Wales is a beautiful country and I hope there are more TV shows set there but between how the characters behave and the errors in judgement, watching Bang is more frustrating than its worth.
Bang Series 1 is currently streaming on Acorn TV.

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