Typing Faster

November 23, 2009

Sometimes You Need A Little Balance

Filed under: Sons of Anarchy — petertypingfaster @ 4:00 pm

I’ve done a lot of raving about Sons of Anarchy lately. In my book it’s the best show on TV at the moment. But I’m always open to differing view points, and in the spirit of that I give you this little piece from Salon.

Here’s an excerpt:

Maybe my allergic reaction to self-styled, flag-waving rebellion is what keeps me from wholeheartedly embracing FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” (10 p.m. Tuesdays). Maybe, having grown up in the South, I associate biker gang stylings with the sorts of kids who drove growly Trans Ams with rebel flags hanging from the rearview mirrors and kept baseball bats in the back seat in case of trouble. It’s hard to be romantic about a subculture that, for me, calls to mind the red mud of man-made lakes, filled to the brim with big, hollering, hairy men in Day-Glo lime green swim trunks, tossing back cans of Bud while roaring around on their jet skis.

But in its second season, “Sons of Anarchy” has amassed solid ratings, a vocal fan base, and a growing heap of critical acclaim. This success comes in part from the fact that show creator Kurt Sutter has slowly but surely managed to bring some of his experience from “The Shield” into play, presenting a few more warring factions this season — the Mayans (Mexican bikers), the League of American Nationalists (white supremacists), the local cops (sometimes corrupt, sometimes not), the Feds (always sneaky and remorseless), the IRA (ruthless but idealistic in their own ways) — and creating slightly more dramatic stories from the whole mix.

But more often than not, the showdowns on “Sons of Anarchy” amount to a simple shoving match: One faction does something bad, their enemies do something worse, the first group is forced to raise the stakes, etc. The running question — “How are we going to address this latest insult or attack?” — is revisited over and over again. Wizened bikers stroke their gray goatees. Hellboy paces and growls (that’s Clay Morrow, the big boss of SOA, played by Ron Perlman). Hellboy’s blond stepson, Jax (Charlie Hunnam), winces and questions his authority-questioning paternal figure, then retreats to the roof to read his dead father’s manifesto about turning the SOA away from their gun peddling and violence, toward their original focus, something vague about living wild and free and not paying your parking tickets in a timely fashion.

But as Jax sulks and sweats the small stuff, looking like Little Lord Fauntleroy among the grizzly, scarred faces at the SOA clubhouse, what’s going on in his pretty head? It’s tough to say. What does Hellboy have on his mind? No telling, really. Even Tara (Maggie Siff), Jax’s pretty doctor girlfriend, has lately fallen in line with the gun-toting rebel lifestyle without many protests or complaints, even when her string-pulling on behalf of her rebel associates looks like it might get her fired. Sure, we’re supposed to understand that when Jax murdered her stalker ex (Jay Karnes), he made her his lady. Yes, we should recognize that, when Tara helped Gemma (Katey Sagal) in the wake of her brutal rape at the hands of kingpin Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin) and the white supremacists, the two became bonded in their shared secret (and shared victimization). Even so, thoughtful, multidimensional character explorations aren’t really in the cards here.

Which would be fine — “The Shield” and “The Sopranos” had plenty of characters who were simply self-interested thugs, after all. But let’s face it, the gun business really isn’t as interesting as the New Jersey mob or as riveting as corrupt factions in the Farmington police department. The rival gangs on “Sons of Anarchy” are too similar, seething thug characters are everywhere, and the strategies of each group aren’t thoughtful or unexpected enough to hold our interest. On “The Shield,” even when Vic Mackey backed himself into a mess of conflicting entanglements, at the end of almost every episode he was holding a trump card. I don’t know how the writers pulled that off, but it made the show consistently satisfying. On “Sons of Anarchy” no one seems to have an ace in the hole, ever. Jax clashes with Clay, the Feds want Zobelle but Clay and Jax won’t play, SOA member Chibs gives in to Agent Stahl when his IRA boss taunts him about sleeping with his daughter, but it doesn’t add up or surprise us enough.

Now, in my opinion, if Sons of Anarchy isn’t offering up some “…thoughtful, multi-dimensional character explorations…” (c’mon! Gemma alone lands you that), then I might just have to turn in my TV writer stripes.

Either that or just chalk it up to different strokes for different folks.

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