When it was originally on: 2008-2014
Original network: FX
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A biker struggles to balance being a father and being involved in an outlaw motorcycle club.
Why I picked it: Sons of Anarchy is one of those shows that I feel like I heard a lot about, but never actually knew anyone who watched it. But yet, the show still ran for seven seasons, which makes it a success in most people’s book. So how can a show that ran for so long still feel like it made a relatively small splash in overall pop culture?
One of my hypotheses is that it came about right before FX established itself as the basic cable original content powerhouse it is today. Other shows that helped give FX this reputation such as The Americans and American Horror Story didn’t make their debut until well into SOA’s run. No, 2008-2014 was AMC’s heyday. Part of me genuinely believes that if Sons of Anarchy ads were running during episodes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it would’ve been a much bigger hit. But then, there’s also the possibility that Sons of Anarchy simply wasn’t as good. And if you look at Emmy nominations, that suggests the latter.
Was Sons of Anarchy actually BAD or was it simply made more for the masses while AMC’s stuff did a better job of catering to critics and awards people? Does it deserve to be in the same league as all the other great white male anti-hero shows of its time or was it rightfully forgotten?
What I liked: So far, Katie Segal’s character, Gemma, is easily my favorite thing about this show. The predictable choice with this premise would be for our protagonist’s mother to be urging her son to get out of his lifestyle of crime. Instead, right when I thought I was figuring out what this show was, I found out that Gemma was having an affair with her son’s gang boss. It’s unclear whether or not they’re a proper couple or just having sex, and it’s also unclear whether or not her son Jax knows about this relationship.
We see Gemma expressing fear that her son has “gone soft” because he’s feeling guilty about his life of crime. If anything, she has bought into the lifestyle more than her son has, and by the end of the episode, we see her flexing her own “gangster” ways by way of threatening Jax’s ex-wife. So far, Gemma is the thing that prevents Sons of Anarchy from being a business-as-usual example of its genre.
I also thing this pilot struck a really nice balance between setting up interesting conflicts for later, and still feeling like a satisfying story unto itself. Much of the tension set up in the beginning of the episode is resolved by the end, yet each “resolution” leads to a new conflict. For example, Jax’s son is delivered prematurely with several terrible health problems. We’re not sure if the baby will survive. By the end of the episode, the baby makes it. However, we’ve also learned that the baby’s doctor was previously a part of Gemma and Jax’s life, there’s hella sexual tension between her and Jax, and we also get a confrontation between Gemma and Wendy (the baby’s mom) in which Gemma says that this woman will never see her son.
We also get a conflict between the Sons of Anarchy and a rival gang, the Mayans (not sure if this is the real name of the gang or just the SOA’s nickname for them). The Mayans blew up an SOA warehouse of illegal guns, so the Sons need revenge. Again, this this revenge pretty much reaches its natural conclusion, but along the way the writers sow seeds for other conflict. They introduce Opie, a former gang member who served five years and is now trying to live an honest life for his wife and children. At the end of the episode, Jax hesitates to shoot one of the Mayans to “finish the job” because again, he’s struggling with the guilt of his lifestyle. I’m already imagining how this could cause fallout between him and his boss (you know, his mom’s boyfriend? That guy). In general, I think most tv shows are better off committing to a more procedural route or a more serialized route, but we actually get a really great mix of both here.
What I didn’t like: I wouldn’t say this is really a dislike, but my biggest complaint about this show is that it seems a little too content to play with the conventions of other tv shows of the time. I’m over the whole “man can’t figure out how to balance family with all the other aspects of his life that make him a dirtbag” schtick. It feels like The Sopranos, but with motorcycles this time. Can derivative things still be fun to watch? Of course! There’s no shame in liking derivative things. But that doesn’t make them any less derivative.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not particularly. I would still recommend this to people who love the anti-hero schtick but for whatever reasons, haven’t gotten around to Sons of Anarchy yet.