[08/31/08 - 05:34 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Sons of Anarchy" (FX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

The network's description: "Sons of Anarchy is an adrenalized, darkly humorous drama exploring a notorious outlaw motorcycle club�s intent on protecting their simple, sheltered town of Charming, Calif. from advancing drug dealers and local corporate developers. It is also a family saga seen through the eyes of Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) whose love for the brotherhood comes into direct conflict with his growing apprehension regarding the club's lawlessness. Katey Sagal stars as his force-of-nature mother who, along with the club's president, Jax's stepfather, has her own ideas about the direction of the Sons of Anarchy. Additional co-stars include Drea de Matteo and Maggie Siff."

What did they leave out? Scott Glenn was originally tapped as the Sons's patriarch Clarence "Clay" Morrow. He was subsequently recast in favor of Ron Perlman. The series also went through a few titles - including "Charming, CA" and "Forever Sam Crow" - and is not to be confused with "1%," a similarly themed HBO pilot starring Donal Logue.

The plot in a nutshell: The small California town of Charming is home to outlaw biker gang SAMCRO, the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original. Anything illegal that happens there has to go through them - guns, drugs, stolen goods, you name it - they must run it or get a piece of it. Founded shortly after the Vietnam War by vets Clarence "Clay" Morrow (Ron Perlman) and the late John Teller, Clay now runs said gang with John's son Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) at his side. And in the first of many Shakespearean twists, Clay has subsequently married Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal), John's widow and Jax's mom. Jax then is being groomed to eventually take over as president of SAMCRO, however he's starting to undergo a crisis of conscience over the club's less than clandestine operations. It all starts when the Mayans, a rival Mexican gang, robs SAMCRO's weapons depot and burns it to the ground, killing two young women in the process. Even worse for Jax and company, the guns were pre-paid for by the 19ers, an Oakland gang who doesn't take kindly to their shipment going missing; plus the Nords, a white supremacist gang lead by Ernest Darby (Mitch Pileggi), are pressing to move their meth production into Charming.

Jax however has even bigger problems on the home front - his pregnant, ex-wife Wendy (Drea de Matteo) is still hitting the needle, causing their son to be born 10 weeks premature (coupled with a genetic heart defect passed on to all the Tellers); and he's discovered some of John's old journals, writings which tell a different story about why SAMCRO was formed. Along for the ride then are fellow SAMCRO members Robert "Bobby" Munson (Mark Boone, Jr.), who spends his weekends as an Elvis impersonator; Alex "Tig" Trager (Kim Coates), the resident sociopath; Filip "Chibs" Telford (Tommy Flanagan), whose nickname comes from the Scottish slang for blade; Jean Carlos "Juice" Ortiz (Theo Rossi), the intel guy; Piermont "Piney" Winston (William Lucking), the aging consigliere; and Kip "Half-Sack" Epps (Johnny Lewis), a prospect who, well... has half a sack. Can Jax manage to steer the club away from bullets and bloodshed, restoring it to his father's vision? And will Clay - or even Gemma (again, lots of Shakespearean stuff here) - allow him?

What works: Proving that there are still genres yet to be explored on television, "Sons of Anarchy" gives us a window into the surprisingly complex world of motorcycle gangs. It's one that seems to fuse together all the crime paradigms we've seen before - from the rituals involved in joining the club; to the unflinching violence needed to survive; to the nobility of staying true to a lifestyle that is being phased out - into something new. "Anarchy" further succeeds in introducing us to this new world by giving us only enough to get by for the time being but also making sure to promise a much deeper mythology should we stick with it. Using the Jax character as our way in also proves to be a masterful stroke - he's just as intrigued and disgusted by this world as we the audience are. (And an extra kudos to the sure-to-be-the-next-big-thing Charlie Hunnam, whose performance reminds me of the late Heath Ledger.)

The plots then wisely feed off Jax's dilemma - such as in the pilot when he must convince ex-con Opie (Ryan Hurst) to use his demolition skills, much to the horror of Opie's wife (Sprague Grayden) who's futilely trying to keep them on the straight and narrow. Equally as engaging is Katey Sagal as Lady Macbeth herself, Gemma Teller. Watching her beg Clay to hammer out Jax's newfound conscience or literally handing Wendy the tools to kill herself are especially chilling. The writers however are wise enough to counterbalance said actions with a portrait of a woman who knows all too well how harsh the cards life has dealt her are. Also of note: Tayler Sheridan's Deputy Chief David Hale, whose righteous indignation toward SAMCRO is perfectly justified; and Maggie Siff's Tara Knowles, Jax's high school sweetheart who's returned home as a doctor, but hasn't quite forgotten the life she left behind.

What doesn't: I'm less intrigued by some of the show's darkly comedic aspects - whether it be Half-Sack using a chain saw to remove a dead deer from a windshield or Half-Sack (again, unfortunately) beating up an Asian Elvis impersonator who poached one of Bobby's gigs - if only because they feel tacked on rather than natural extensions of the story. Similarly I'm not too crazy about a certain development in the second episode, which sees Jax and company trying to teach a guy who cut them off a lesson - only to have it go horribly, horribly wrong.

The bottom line: All in all, there's a lot here I'm excited to see play out - not the I-can't-wait-to-find-out kind of excitement of say "The Shield," but excited nonetheless.

  [august 2008]  


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