Why you should care

Because satire can be as deadly as a gunshot.

Forget those sexy, elegant Mafia-boss actors like Marlon Brando and Al Pacino who seduced audiences with power and shiny black limos. The days of glory and fascination of The Godfather are over — at least in Italy. For the first time in Italian history, a provocative TV series is poking fun at the all-powerful mob, with the aim of making the audience crack up.

And it is funny, if uncomfortably so. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer goes full-on parody with ugly, hairy, sweaty and dumb mafiosi who share a litany of undesirable traits such as mangling the Italian language, eating with their hands and looking silly when meeting powerful politicians. In jail, the mafiosi dress in pajamas and white undershirts and drool over plates of milinciane ammuttunate (stuffed aubergines, a Sicilian delicacy). They’re portrayed as grotesque caricatures, complete with twisted faces and exaggerated features — bulging eyes, pointed mustaches and fat bellies — and a parodied Sicilian twang.

“Depicting the Mafia in such a way would have been impossible” a few decades ago, says director Pierfrancesco Diliberto, also known as Pif. “I would be a dead man walking now, constantly looking over my shoulder.” Now though, things are changing. And Italians are paying attention, with a viewership of roughly 5 million (19 percent share), according to RAI, Italy’s national public broadcasting company.

The series positions the common people — not the once-upon-a-time cool mafiosi — as the real heroes.

The 12-episode series, which is a spin-off of a 2013 film with the same name, pivots around an ordinary family living in Palermo in the 1970s and their daily problems with the Mafia. There’s the mother who hasn’t become a full-time teacher because there’s always someone above her getting help from a mafioso friend. The father is too honest to ask for a loan from a corrupt banker. The young boy becomes a reporter to investigate why only rich neighborhoods have constant running water while rainfall is collected in buckets at his place. The series positions the common people — not the once-upon-a-time cool mafiosi — as the real heroes.

Still, is laughing at the mob kinda wrong? After all, they have a horrific track record of brutality against everyone from cops to reporters. Going the route of the murder-comedy is the best way to “exorcise the immense fascination of evil that gangsters embody,” says series star Francesco Scianna. “The image of the kick-ass mafioso simply crumbles.” Scianna plays a funny wannabe mafioso longing to be stylish and respected, enjoying all the benefits of a don. The trouble is, he has a good heart, which messes with his Mafia mojo. Like when instead of killing a man, he saves his life. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer will take you on an emotional journey. One minute I laughed myself into tears; the next minute the tears were falling in response to a family tragedy.

As Molière’s bitter comedies and Shakespeare’s prophetic fool have taught us, the best way to defeat the enemy is often through a snicker — often via a good dose of satire. It’s an approach that makes criminals appear pathetic so people will fear them less. If you’re looking for a good belly laugh, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer might be right for your next TV-watching binge.

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