Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catching Up #50: Sons of Anarachy: Season One by Kurt Sutter

When Sons of Anarchy first aired in the fall of 2008, I gave the pilot a shot only to roll my eyes and decide that that shit wasn’t for me. My main problems, I recall, had to do with the main character, Jackson “Jax” (God fucking help me do I hate that nickname still) Teller, as played by pretty little English boy Charlie Hunnam.

In case I haven’t made it perfectly clear, I’m a huge Sopranos fan and a big part of the success of that show was the casting of a bunch of gritty, interesting faces. Now Sons of Anarchy has a bunch of great believable-looking mugs in it like Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and Mark Boone Junior, but it seemed like sub-par TV safeness to have a main character (in a post-Sopranos world, I’m saying) that was blindingly-matinee-idol pretty.

To add to my hesitancy, dude has a chance to kill a character in cold blood and prove he’s going to be a badass, ambiguous character but ends up killing in self-defense instead. Like I’m saying, in a post-Sopranos world, I don’t need my TV to puss out on me when the story dictates that no pussing-out is necessary. There was also a lot of obvious Hamlet overtones in the pilot that made me fucking yawn as well.

But a friend of mine has been bugging me to watch this shit for some time, eventually shoving the first season DVD set into my clenched, unwilling fists (that sentence could have gotten weirder). After a week of it sitting around on the coffee table, I popped it in…and watched all thirteen episodes in one weekend.

But for those unfamiliar with the show, let’s get your asses up to speed toot-sweet.

Sons of Anarchy is the story of Jax (not getting over it anytime soon) Teller, a new father and vice president of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (SAMCRO). His widowed mother Gemma (a kick ass Katey Sagal), a wily hell bitch, is married to the club president, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). SAMCRO runs a mechanic shop as a front for their vast gun-running enterprise. A gone-straight ex of Jax’s returns home a doctor and she and Jax rekindle the flames, much to Gemma’s chagrin, seeing how she wishes for Jax to become president of SAMCRO once Clay is too old, Gemma figuring a straight-laced girlfriend won’t help him reach such a goal.

Jax has been butting heads with Clay lately, in part due to his new son and yuppie girlfriend but also because of Jax’s discovery of his late father’s manuscript, a book that outlines how SAMCRO went astray into violence and criminal activities when he had originally intended for it to be more a hippie commune instead of a gang. The arc of the season essentially becomes whether or not Jax will follow in his dad’s footsteps or descend further into the underworld as his mother and stepfather hope.

The show starts out pretty rocky, as lots of good shows do. The episodes feel too, well, episodic - not serialized enough - for the first half of the season. It’s almost like the writers are imagining that people will catch the show late and they need to keep the action sort of stagnant and the episodes individualized for a while before making it a serialized, have-to-watch-every-episode powerhouse. The first season of The Sopranos suffered from this same problem, as did the first two seasons of The Shield. It’s not a bad show by any means for the first few episodes, just not what you come to expect in a, say it with me: post-Sopranos world. But around episode eight, the big storyline really takes off and bam-bam-bam, you’ve marathoned to the bitter end.

But the first episodes are pretty good at bringing you into an exciting world. You get some cool biker gang shit and a whole mess of funny, nasty characters whose lives are easy to get wrapped up in. Yeah, Jax is forever too much of a pussy to really get my nerd-boner raging and for a while the show never seems to go “full-dark” as they say, but you’re invested anyway. It’s funny and violent enough to keep you going, after an episode or two you’re interested enough to overlook the flaws and keep going.

Then, like I said, the show eventually turns into serial-cliffhanger goodness, even managing to get wonderfully, shockingly dark in the home stretch. I’m not totally in love, but I am completely invested, ready to watch the second season and probably even keep up with the third as it airs.

I still have many problems with the show, granted. Jax’s relationship with the doctor strains believability a good deal of the time, the actress who plays her never making me fully believe that she would risk her brilliant new life and career for a full-fledged criminal like Jax, pretty as he may be. Also, the soundtrack is often crazy-shitty (as was The Shield’s), littered with source music that is obvious and often stupider than a 14-year-old “modern rawk” fan’s ipod playlist (okay, maybe that fits for a show about bikers and maybe my music tastes are elitist, but still, it’s annoying). Also, music pops up way too often when diegetic (gotta use my film studies terms every now and then, right?) sound would be more powerful. I hate when filmmakers don't trust the power of their scenes to the point that they have cloying music every fucking second.

And I get that these guys are proud to be in a club and that’s why they wear their "cuts" constantly, but there are too many scenes of them talking to corrupt cops in wide-open or public locations, their SOA patches right on their back for any Fed to photograph. And if you’re going into enemy gang territory and told to keep a low-profile, why-oh-fucking-why would you ride your loud-ass Harley to get there? Also, while the show got plenty dark and exciting in the end, I still don’t feel this show is one where I feel like “anything could happen.” But that said, I never felt that way about The Shield until probably season five or so, and I love that show for sure.

But like I said, while I have reservations, this is still a helluva good time. It’s not as good as Breaking Bad or Mad Men, but if you only watch near-perfect-pitch shows all the time, let’s face it: you’re not gonna watch much TV. Besides, according to my fanboy friend, shit gets darker and rawer in season two - no-fucking-doubt.

You know the Nerd is down for some of that.


GeoffS said...

Gets better in Season 2. Glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post! I totally agree with you that SOA has lots of ups and downs. As you mentioned, problem that SOA has faced in the starting season has been the case with many shows like The Shield, Sopranos. But if you watch sopranos episodes from later seasons, it’s quite clear that the guys have made up for the mistakes done previously. I am expecting the same from Sons of Anarchy (SOA).

pattinase (abbott) said...

You won me over.

CrimeNerd said...


Yeah, you should check it out. The fantastic cast of characters carries you through the stupid stuff in the first part of the season and at least it's never boring. Then you get to the second half and, done and done, you're down for whatever they throw at you.

StephenD said...

Yeah, great show. I caught up with it on DVD like you did. Picked it up mainly because of Kurt Sutter who used to write for The Shield. I miss my Shield fix.

EOS said...

I've been wondering about this show. Now I'm going to watch it. Thanks you nerdy bastard for adding another episodic show to my scary "to watch" list.