In the interest of full disclosure, we have not watched Suburra, which is the hit 2015 movie, or Suburra: Blood on Rome, which was released in 2017, which were the prequels to Suburræterna. Therefore, this entire review is based on the eight episodes of this show and what the audience can take away from them as a standalone. All the prequels have had the Anecleti family at the center of things, with their rise to power while managing the religious and legal institutions around them. Spadino is living a peaceful life away from his family after a lifetime of gore and bloodshed, and his ex-wife has now been married into the rival family, who were defeated by his clan and are now working for them. There is a lot of unrest because of this power imbalance, and Suburræterna is the story of the effects of that.
First things first, Suburra was an extremely well-received movie when it was released, and our research tells us that the 2017 show also enjoyed some success. As happens with stories of crime, there is always scope to build on the created universes, and that is why Suburræterna is justified, even though there is a six-year gap since its predecessor story ended. However, the question is whether this show can be viewed as a standalone. The answer would be yes, it can, though it takes time to grow on you.
The thing to remember is that none of these characters were known before if seen that way. The heroes of the prequels could be the villains of this current series, and there is no way to gain a complete understanding of every character’s arc. Therefore, the best thing to do would be to take part in the gang wars and assess how much you enjoy each actor’s performance currently. Giacomo Ferrara is undoubtedly the best, with his portrayal of an unwilling leader who is capable of doing exactly what he wants, provided he wants it badly enough. A character like this is always a staple in stories based on the mafia, and if only Spadino had a better script to work with, he could have managed the magnetism of Michael Corleone. That is not to say that the script is bad, but it doesn’t offer anything new. It is another power struggle, a clash of ideologies with no apparent reason, and just general gunslinging and firing around. At times, it felt like the story had too many details and politics that we were missing, and that was a mistake by the scriptwriters. They should have kept in mind that the six-year gap between the previous installment of the story and this show meant that there may also be a different audience that would tune in to watch this, and they should have been taken into account.
A huge reason The Godfather was such a hit was because it included its audience. With an explanation of the subtle power struggles, the underlying politics, the characters of the people involved, and the principles that the gangs operate by, the audience was extremely aware of what was going on and was completely invested in every step of the story. This investment is what made Mario Puzo’s story such a cult classic that not many have been able to touch so far. It couldn’t be denied that Suburræterna at least tried to look like The Godfather. Or it could be the case that both stories are based on the Italian mafia, which gives rise to this similarity.
The one genuine benefit of not having watched the prequels is that the audience will root equally for both sides at war. While one is an underdog who deserves to fight back, the other is a genuinely good person who is caught up in a mess because he is trying to do the right thing. Had we known their stories and points of view from the first movie in 2015, one side would have had more support than the other, and the fun of oscillating between sides would have been lost. A favorite is picked soon enough, and the complete credit for that would go to Giacomo Ferrara, who brought the charm to it. Truly, that was the only thing that brought the audience firmly over to his side because even his body language and tone of voice have that command that makes one think of him as an heir of something, even if it is the mafia. But it cannot be denied that the charm of one character cannot save an eight-episode-long show.
Briefly, the story of Suburræterna is that Rome is ‘in turmoil,’ with the mafia, the church, and the government pushing their agendas at the expense of poor people. While the common man continues to voice his dissent in the background, the powerful ones pretend to solve their problems while serving their own interests. This is why it is apt to say that there are no good guys in this show, even if they look like they are doing the right thing. The fact is that we expected to feel something with Suburræterna. The Italian mafia is the most famous of its kind in the world of fiction. Italians are famous all over the world for their manners, their conduct, their looks, and their food. Rome is blowing up over social media for its culture and history, so a show set in the heart of this city and based on the world’s favorite mafia should have had us in a chokehold. Yet, there was a pervasive feeling of ‘Can we just get on with it.’ That gritty grandeur and style were sorely missing, not for lack of trying but because the execution simply did not catch the essence of it.
On a different note, perhaps the series would have benefited from a different kind of simplicity. It could have been kept to the war between the families without the involvement of outside organizations. Keeping up with that would be possible for those who have seen the predecessor stories, but for those who haven’t, it is all just too much. Instead, some explanatory flashbacks could have been included to cater to the newer audiences and, if done with enough attention, could have also enhanced the story for the older viewers. It was all a matter of knowing one’s audience, and either that was underestimated, or the series itself was overestimated.
Essentially, watching Suburræterna as someone who hasn’t seen the prequels was an underwhelming experience. Fans of the prequels may enjoy it more due to the conclusive answers it likely provides for characters they love. Otherwise, revisiting The Godfather is a better idea.