Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sons of Anarchy

Now that the last pass has been thrown on the set of Friday Night Lights and Rescue Me has put out its last fire, I started to consider what my favorite television program is now.  There are several shows I really enjoy for different reasons – Justified (an engrossing lead character), Chuck (just plain fun), Madmen (all around brilliant), Law & Order: SVU (intense storytelling), Big Bang Theory (laugh out loud funny), Psych (original and fun), Boardwalk Empire (gritty and epic), and Modern Family (brilliantly written and acted) are among my favorites.  One program, though, stands out for me.  I didn’t realize just how much I missed this show until I started seeing promotions for it on air.  For the past month or so, I have been eagerly awaiting the season four debut of Sons of Anarchy. 

FX’s bread and butter has been the development of the flawed hero.  What I mean by this is that most of their lead characters are not perfect or pure people and sometimes are downright evil.  Despite these flaws, audiences are often pulling for them.  FX started this successful formula with The Shield and continued it with Rescue Me, Damages, Justified, Terriers, and Lights Out.  Not since The Shield, though, have I found myself pulling for the lead character, not matter what brutal act he commits, more than I do for Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller.

Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the heir apparent of a California motorcycle gang his father co-founded decades earlier.  The gang, or club as they call themselves, deals mainly in guns and violence, with sidelines in bribery and porn.  The members live from payday to payday as it were.  They are paid as money comes in from their various nefarious enterprises – not a steady income at all.  They battle rival gangs, corrupt politicians, like-minded outlaws, and fired up law enforcement officers.  And, of course, themselves.

Jax is a troubled young man, though.  His father’s dream for the club was based more on brotherhood and family rather than violence and greed, but he died tragically early.  We know there is more to his death than has been revealed and deep down, Jax suspects this as well.  Jax’s father left a manuscript describing his vision of the club but he lacked the courage to direct the club in its early years in the direction he wanted.  Jax has read his father’s legacy and agrees with it but is waiting for the opportunity to extract himself.

This is a nearly impossible task because the Sons are controlled by his step father, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and more subtly, his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal).  Much like Michael Corleone, every time Jax tries to get out, they pull him back in.  Jax has a family – two sons and a fiancĂ©e, Tara (Maggie Siff).  He wants to raise his family without fear of death or imprisonment.  The problem is that no one who is in as deep as Jax is can ever get out alive.  Jax is no innocent; he is often violent and sometimes unpredictable.

The leads are brilliant.  Ron Perlman’s whole career seems like preparation for this role.  Katey Sagal, in this role, is so far from Peg Bundy, it doesn’t seem possible it is the same actress.  It is criminal in itself that Sagal and Sons of Anarchy have been ignored at Emmy time.  Sagal is absolutely brilliant and has Emmy worthy moments in all three of Sons first three seasons.  Hunnam’s portrayal as the earnest and sincere Jax is believable and makes us pull for him despite his violent nature.  Several other actors do a superb job filling out the members of the gang, especially Ryan Hurst as the brooding, hulking, Opie, Jax’s best friend. 

An underlying theme of Sons of Anarchy is family and brotherhood.  It is at times warped and unhealthy but in most instances it is sincere.  Despite all the violence and corruption, the men and women love their families and friends like people in every day lives.  It shows a side of violent criminals rarely shown with any depth on television.  It is one of the things that make us pull for the Sons over the people who are trying to shut them down.  Of course, it helps that the good guys are hardly less corrupt that the Sons themselves. 

The other theme lurking in the shadows is the mystery of what happened to Jax’s father.  Most certainly, Clay was involved and it wasn’t an accident.  We also don’t know if Gemma, Jax’s mother, was involved or not.  I’m sure as the series moves on, and Jax steps up his plans to leave the club, more and more details will reveal themselves, with dire consequences.  This keeps me watching and involved week to week.

Sons of Anarchy is brilliantly written by creator Kurt Sutter, Katey Sagal’s real life husband.  Sutter is in complete control here and he knows what he is trying to create.  The show is intense and action filled with plenty of dramatic moments.  This show is also unbelievably well scored.  Sutter and company use music to set tone and mood with a lot of little known music or surprisingly styled cover songs.  Every week, I am impressed by the music used.  I can’t really describe how important to the show this is. 

When Sons of Anarchy was first aired, I didn’t find the premise an interesting one.  I only gave it a try because it was on FX and it came on the heels of the end of The Shield.  I am so glad I did.  There is so much depth to it and the characters are so fleshed out.  Its seasonal storylines have been different and entertaining, not to mention intense.  The villains (club enemies) have been interesting each season.  I eagerly awaited the season premiere and now each week I will bemoan the fact I have to wait a whole week for the next episode to air.  Despite its violence and less than perfect characters, I am pulled into their lives and I want them to defeat their enemies, good and bad.  It is a tough sell to get audiences to pull for characters like this but Sons of Anarchy pulls it off and this has become a FX trademark.

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