ROME – A new Naples-set TV crime series, “The Bastards of Pizzofalcone,” is scoring stellar ratings in Italy, grabbing more than one-fourth of the country’s regular viewing audience.
Directed by Carlo Carlei (“Fluke,” “Romeo & Juliet,”), one of the few Italian directors with Hollywood credentials, “Bastards” is based on a bestselling series of noir novels about a ragtag team of detectives. The show has a tenderness at its core that stands in sharp contrast to the gritty “Gomorrah,” Italy’s top TV export, though both are set in the atmospheric southern Italian port city which is also the backdrop of Elena Ferrante’s popular novels.
“Bastards” concluded its six-episode run Monday night, scoring a whopping 26.7% audience share on pubcaster Rai’s Rai 1 flagship station, with 6.9 million Italians tuning in. It averaged a 26% share throughout, despite strong competition from “Celebrity Survivor” on Mediaset, which on Monday pulled an 18.9% share.
Rai’s top crimer, Sicily-set “Montalbano,” averages 6 million viewers.
Carlei has scored record-breaking ratings on Italian TV before, most notably with TV movie “Padre Pio: Miracle Man” and mini-series “Ferrari.” But his “Bastards” is more innovative in terms of visuals and narrative.
Co-produced by Rai and Clemart, it has a polished visual style “inspired by Michael Mann, who is my idol,” said Carlei. “I treated Naples like the Las Vegas that Mann used in ‘Crime Story,’” he noted.
The ratings for “Bastards” are being considered a game changer for Rai’s drama unit, Rai Fiction, which took a gamble on the edgy show now being praised by local critics as a milestone for Italy’s tame generalist TV. Rome daily Il Messaggero lauded its “wonderful flashes of writing and direction” and its depiction of Naples as “a city lacquered in light, always on the visionary edge.”
Corriere della Sera critic Aldo Grasso wrote that the cops “don’t just have to solve homicides, but worry a lot more about their personal problems.” One is a trigger-happy officer who hides her homosexuality from her family; another is a lieutenant who beats his wife; there is a sergeant with a mentally disabled son and a widowed captain obsessed with his dead wife.
Each 100-minute episode is a separate crime case. But the vicissitudes of the characters’ relationships, private lives and interactions are threaded throughout.
The “Bastards of Pizzofalcone” books by Italian author Maurizio De Giovanni on which the series is based are published in the U.S. by Europa Editions. De Giovanni supervised the screenplays.
The six-episode series, which is sold by Rai’s Rai Com’s sales unit, will screen later this month at the Los Angeles Italia film fest, where Carlei will receive an award.