Last year Sons of Anarchy premiered, and being a curious Canadian, I couldn't help check it out. This series comes from Kurt Sutter, a writer best known for his work on The Shield and it primarily focuses on a biker club called Sons Of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (or SAMCRO for short).
Their stomping ground is a small fictional town in California called Charming, where the cancerous Sheriff is on the take, the Deputy Sheriff is wise to it and he's biding his time, waiting for his superior to die or step down so he can clean up the town.
SAMCRO makes most of their money running guns up and down the California coast, and to make things a little more interesting, the guns come from the IRA. They keep hard drugs out of their town and have earned the trust of the local residents.
To make things even more interesting the Sons of Anarchy is a legacy biker club. A few of the founders are still alive, but one of the most important figureheads is long dead, and his son, Jax, is the club's Vice President. His step father, Clay, was his biological father's best friend, and President of the club, creating an environment ripe for conflict. Things become increasingly complicated when Jax discovers his father's memoirs, an unpublished manuscript that was written to chronicle the Biker Club's fall into crime and to lament the loss of the original spirit behind the Sons of Anarchy. I'm not giving anything away here, this is all established in the first episode.
After seeing most of the episodes (I'm currently waiting for Sons of Anarchy Season 2 Episode 6), I have to say I haven't been disappointed for an instant. Everything I've seen has been believable, interesting and entertaining overall. There are layers to the story this series tells and my only regret overall is that there are only thirteen episodes per season.
Here's a more detailed look:
Performers / Performances
Here's the majority of the cast: Ron Perlman as Clay (Hellboy Series, Dark Country), Charlie Hunnam as Jax (Children of Men), Katey Sagal as Gemma (Futurama, Married with Children, Eli Stone), Mark Boone Jr. as Bobby Elvis (Halloween II, Spooner), Kim Coates as Tig (Blackhawk Down, Prison Break), Tommy Flanagan as Chibs (Sin City, Smokin' Aces), Johnny Lewis as Kip 'Half Sack' Epps (Felon, The Runaways), Maggie Siff as Tara (Leaves of Grass, Push), Theo Rossi as Juice (Cloverfield).
There are other instantly recognizable faces, each of them bringing considerable talent. As far as a biker drama cast, it's like a dream come true. Looking at the Biker Club sitting around the table you can't help but love the diversity of character, especially when it would have been so easy to cast the show on a shoestring budget with one or two big names and a number of cardboard cutout thugs. Everything is right with this cast and everyone gives it their best. It's an ensemble, and it really feels like each performer is acting to best deliver the scene, not to compete with each other for the camera.
I'm not going to go through a list of names here, few of us follow director credits so the list would probably mean more to me than anyone else. If you're looking for the directors and their credits, check out the IMDB here.
The only complaint I have with regards to direction is that there just isn't enough riding in the show. What I mean to say is that I don't get a chance to see the enjoyment the characters feel at riding down a California highway on their bikes (mostly if not all Harley Davidsons from what I've seen), on a sunny day. Something we see a couple times, but for the most part we have to assume they enjoy that off camera.
Other than that, the direction is fantastic. They use their sometimes small sets in ways that focus on the actors and the more iconic features in the scene. A good example of this is the Grim Reaper carved into the club house table. The President of the club is often shot at the head of the table, which is normal, but they take the trouble to include a part of that carving, giving Ron Perlman's character more weight (figuratively), in the scene. When they do give us a chance to see the bike club roaring down the roads I get a sense of wide open spaces when they're on a California highway and the show does give us the opportunity to witness the biker club rumbling down main street. I've been in one of those long lines of bikes once and at sidewalk level numerous times, it's always impressive and they manage to capture some of that rumble and roar.
As far as dramatic direction is concerned (you know, when the bikes are off screen), it's top notch. They manage to capture and compliment the solid performances this show should become known for and often instill a real sense that the audience is a close bystander.
Kurt Sutter is the primary Writer and Producer, and oversees the overall plot arc while writing most of the teleplays himself. The team surrounding him are at least on par, so the quality of episodes not written by Sutter aren't reduced. The feel of the series is very consistent.
The story arc featuring Jax and his father's memoir feels like it's meant to play long, over more than two seasons. That's good news for this show, considering it provides a good base for the conflict between Jax and Clay, the President of the Club. The dynamic set up in Charming (a fictional town), with the Sheriff, Deputy Sheriff and civilians is fantastic for setting, especially since there's a lot of room for dramatic change. As for the biker club itself? The members of Sons Of Anarchy are diverse and you really get the feeling that they have their own ways of going about things, their own motivations. The women entangled in the biker life are powerful, complex and are most interesting when they're unsure of their place.
Wrap all that up with rivalry and secrecy and you have a winner. The characters and stories in this show make something like Gray's Anatomy look like a dull soap opera.
This is the most fun you'll have without getting on two wheels and taking a road trip. I hope Sons of Anarchy goes on for as long or longer than the Shield. I don't think I'll ever get tired of riding with SAMCRO.