On Tuesday, the FX show Sons of Anarchy premiered its fourth season – pulling in close to 5 million viewers, the show’s largest audience for an episode ever. And thus kicking of the long gestating speculation that the cable TV crime drama centered around a Northern California biker gang and their ruling family has ascended as a true replacement to the long gone The Sopranos.
If you’ve never seen the show, its premise is both simple and complex. The Sons of Anarchy are a biker gang, like the Hell’s Angels, with various independent charters of the gang (or “motorcycle club”) throughout the west (even one in Ireland) – think of it like criminal franchises. The series follows the exploits of the founding charter – hence the club nickname SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). The club makes money in the underworld by smuggling and selling guns while also protecting their idyllic and crime-free hometown of Charming, CA.
At the center of this anti-hero ensemble is the more Shakespearean aspect of the show’s main character Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the son of a club founder and the current charter Vice President. Jax starts off the show’s first season in the midst of an outlaw identity crisis sparked by the birth of his son and the discovery of his long–dead father’s manuscript spurning the criminal lifestyle. At the heart of Jax’s character is the attempt to be a moral (daresay even legal) outlaw. This brings him into near constant conflict with his stepfather and current Club President Clay Morrow, as well as his mother/gang matriarch, Gemma. Add the fact the Jax’s father died under mysterious circumstances and the show end ups exploring more familial drama a la Hamlet.
If you haven’t seen the season premiere yet, you might want to stop reading now and skip the next two paragraphs – because SPOILERS AHEAD.
If anything this week’s episode seemed a clearing of the decks from the conflict and tension built up from the previous three seasons. The gang (or most of them anyway) get out of prison after serving fourteen months and things have changed. Jax has short hair, there’s a new sheriff in town (literarily) working with a new Assistant U.S Attorney building a RICO case against the gang; Charming’s new mayor Jacob Hale has begun a new housing development project that’ll turn the town into a suburb (which Clay hates); and an in-between season conflict with the Russian mob boss Putlova. The first two will no doubt be season long storylines – but the Russians get handled within the hour in what’s becoming the show’s signature of ending certain episodes with a montage of violence set to music.
It’s pretty obvious that this episode was meant to hook new fans and draw in viewers checking out the show for the first time. Main Characters openly state their thoughts and intentions, we’re given updates of previous events via police briefings, and there’s a single episode specific problem to solve with the Russians (honestly, we were hoping that SAMCRO would be getting revenge for the murder of Luann Delaney, wife of in-prison member Otto and club business partner, from season two). That’s not to say it wasn’t a solid hour of good television, but if you’ve been following the show since the beginning, like some of us here at Daily Lounge, you were probably a little bored during some of it.
All right, SPOILERS OVER.
So has Sons successfully gained the title of the next Sopranos?
Eh, probably not. But that’s not a bad thing.
The Sopranos kicked off a TV revolution of intensive well-plotted character-driven dramas that started on premium cable channels, built up though the advent of DVD’s and digital video technology, and spread on to basic a cable….with some moderate success on network TV. Sure the Sopranos was a crime/family drama, but it was also a densely plotted 80+ hour opus.
One of the most admirable traits about Sons of Anarchy is that it’s a drama populated by characters who are almost entirely self-aware, the exact opposite of the Sopranos, which used the clash between psychotherapy and a hidden criminal life as jumping off point to explore the intricacies of the human psyche. The Sopranos was about its characters figuring out who they really were, while Sons of Anarchy is about its character trying to be who they are. And yeah, that might seem like a subtle difference, but it translates to show that just wants to tell a good story instead of dealing with trying to understand what makes people in general tick.
To put it plainly: you can’t read too much into a show about outlaw bikers. Sons of Anarchy prides itself on being an escapist fun TV show. But because it’s a well-written crime show people have to make the comparison to the Sopranos (though it’s too much fun for any comparison to the holiest of holies, the Wire). But at the end of the day, Sons of Anarchy isn’t trying to be the next Sopranos and doesn’t want to be– and that’s says something.
Now, AMC’s Breaking Bad on the other hand….well, that’s another discussion all together..
[Pic via Screenshot of Sons of Anarchy Opening credits]