Customer Review

172 of 183 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great show, August 7, 2009
This review is from: Sons of Anarchy: Season 1 (DVD)
The Shield may be lamentably gone from TV, but prominent alumnus Kurt Sutter seems to have taken it upon himself to carry on its legacy with Sons of Anarchy, and if the show's first season is any indication he's more than up to the task. Anyone who enjoyed The Shield's combination of intelligence and testosterone will certainly find a lot to like here, as SoA quickly established itself as among TV's most unique and consistently compelling shows and only got better from there. Striking a near-perfect balance between grit and sensationalism, it takes viewers through a world marked by violence, double-dealing, and racial division, with an emphasis on the ambiguous morality and personal and familial baggage that come with a life lived between the straight world and the criminal one. The machinations of the characters and the twists of the plot are almost operatic, but the show remains rooted in the harsh realities of gangland.

The premise is sort of Hamlet-meets-the-Sopranos: youthful biker and new dad Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself trying to balance work with personal life as the Vice President of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcylcle Club Redwood Original (aka SAMCRO), a gun-running biker gang co-founded by his late father and now run by his stepfather Clay Morrow (the ever-swaggering Ron Perlman), who's married to Clay's widowed mother Gemma (Katey Sagal, in pretty much the biggest departure possible from her Married With Children days). From the somewhat hippie-ish beginnings envisioned by Jax's father, SAMCRO has evolved into a criminal powerhouse, especially in their central California base of Charming, where they're practically a small-town Mafia. These guys may not be as bad as the Hell's Angels, but the show makes it clear that they're far from harmless nonconformists, as we see them running guns, committing murders and (in one particularly stunning scene) burning off the tattoo of a perfidious former member. Single-episode plots focusing on the gang's efforts to turn a profit and stay out of trouble are expertly mixed with longer arcs dealing with the constant conflicts of gangland life and the mounting tensions within the club. As the season progresses, it increasingly develops into a battle of viewpoints between Clay's world-weary cynicism and Jax's (relatively) idealistic leanings and pangs of conscience, which leads inexorably to a conclusion that already has me drooling in anticpation of season two.

In another welcome parallel with The Shield, the show's writing gets progressively more complex and nuanced as the season goes on, giving the cast, a nice assemblage of recognizable (but not household) names, a lot of room to work. Further cementing his status as Hollywood's leading Jewish tough-guy actor, Perlman is impossible not to watch as Clay, the club leader who walks a fine line between toughness and ruthlessness. Clay's a classic antihero in the Tony Soprano-Vic Mackey mold, whose occasional moments of decency don't quite compensate for his myriad of bad acts, but he's practically a softie compared to his wife. Taking the concept of standing by her men very seriously, Gemma's the very picture of steely determination, willing to say and do anything to safeguard her family, and she shares both Clay's ability to perceive all the angles and his lack of reservations in doing what needs to be done.

For his part, Jax is certainly no saint, but he hasn't quite been won over to the Machiavellian value system championed by his mother and stepfather. Constantly tugging at his conscience are the newly-discovered writings of his late father John, a somewhat intellectual type who didn't necessarily intend for the club to become a crime syndicate. The voice-over narration of John's journal is a bit of a contrived device in a show largely devoid of them, but it does nicely frame the struggles that come to define the season. This season also sees a succession of great supporting turns from recognizable faces--Jay Karnes as a twisted ATF agent with a thing for Jax's ex, Mitch Pileggi as a vicious Nazi meth lord, Ally Walker as an enjoyably amoral Fed who vows to take the Sons down--that only serve to up the entertainment quotient. Even the law-enforcement officers--the shady, compromised Chief Unser and the more principled, by-the-book Deputy Chief Hale--eventually emerge as multi-dimensional characters in their own right.

Overall, it's extremely difficult to find fault with this season. SoA seems to have flown under the radar a bit while shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad get all the acclaim, and while those are both great shows I think SoA easily holds its own as one of the best on TV right now. If it maintains its level of quality in season two, we viewers could have yet another all-time great on our hands.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 8, 2009 12:29:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 8, 2009 12:30:41 PM PDT
Hmm. I watched a couple episodes when it came on and couldn't quite get into it, though I vaguely intended on renting it sometime. The Sutter and Perlman angles made it seem pretty promising, so it sounds like that paid off. Also, having it run alongside to the mindbogglingly awesome last season of The Shield probably couldn't help but make it suffer in comparison, so now it'll have a chance to shine on its own.

Relatedly, I'd recommend checking out Damages, if you haven't. The second season was something of a dropoff, but it was still good, and the first was truly excellent. That's one of those shows just made for DVD, as it is so insanely complex that it would be almost impossible to get into if you didn't catch the earliest episodes. Also, it has a mostly great cast particularly Close, Ivanek and Danson (seriously). (Rose Byrne is perhaps a little flat as the main character, but she makes up for it in other ways. . .)

Also, I've responded to your Eastern Promises comment, if you're interested.

Posted on Aug 10, 2009 1:08:10 AM PDT
Asmo1978 says:
amazing review i couldn't agree more

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 14, 2009 12:43:57 PM PDT
The show's first two eps after the pilot were some of the weaker ones of the season, but once Jay Karnes really arrives in episode four, great stuff happens.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 29, 2009 7:57:46 PM PDT
lusty22 says:
Running this show alongside The Shield was, in my opinion, never a hinderance. I thought this show was every bit as good as The Shield. Especially for it being the first season. I loved both of them. FX can't make a bad show, I just wish they had not let "The Riches" go.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2009 6:34:05 PM PDT
Yeah, I've heard of Damages. I know it's gotten a lot of praise (including from my parents of all people), and Season 1 is on my Netflix queue so I'm sure I'll get to it eventually. I just got Rock Band 2 for our Wii, though, so that may be taking up a large share of my free time for a while...

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2009 6:35:58 PM PDT
Yeah, that brief period where The Shield and SoA were running together was an exciting time in my life, possibly never to be replicated. AMC does have a similar pairing of great shows with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but since their seasons alternate it doesn't look like we'll ever get both in the same week.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2010 11:24:57 PM PDT
From My experience US hells angels are pathetic cowards that cannot fight even in a flock. I think these actors could easily beat a chapter of hells angels in a fist fight.

As far as hells angels being bad . Yea I think I am sick of reading about so many hells angels in the news year after year for crimes like child porn or some how harming raping molesting and murdering women and children.

real bikers do not support this crap.

If SOA was about that crap I don't think they would have such a following

Posted on Jun 25, 2012 12:08:04 AM PDT
Skeptic says:
I've never seen a show with so much kissing.
It gets very tedious for me to see so much kissing.

Posted on Dec 13, 2012 4:57:40 PM PST
Brandon says:
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