Sons of Anarchy
This FX drama follows the rough happenings of the core members of SAMCRO - Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original - the original branch of an apparently world-wide motorcycle club. It begins by focusing on the family-oriented drama between original member and now President Clay Morrow, his wife Gemma Teller Morrow, and her son and club Vice President Jackson ("Jax") Teller. His father, and Gemma's former husband, haunts the scene as the original club president who was long ago killed under mysterious, unknown (but slowly unravelling) circumstances. He left behind a book chronicling his personal passage from content leader to unsatisfied outsider, demanding change. Finding and reading this legacy in secret complicates Jax's attitude towards his club, to whom he remains nevertheless completely loyal.
This is the set up. In reality, we are given various human portraits that clash (and make amends, sometimes in record time) in a series of high-tense "bigger picture" situations of how SAMCRO survives in their hometown of Charming (just outside Los Angeles). In turn, we are given an almost anthropological look at how that hometown is defined by their presence, which to keeps them "safe" from "color" (Latinos and Blacks) - and, in seasons two, "White Power" - and violent crime.
People have complained that there isn't much of a connection made between audience and motorcylce club - why care about these violent, criminal individuals? The power of the show lies in its unwillingness to ask anyone to care; it simply presents us with these ambigously multi-shaded characters and their always-challenged relationships. Carried by their strong moral codes and principles, they are set loose to commit murder, defend their honor, deal guns, run porn studios, avoid imprisonment, and survive. This is exciting, suspenseful, and fun television. But it's made to be more by a few singularly fantastic performances.
Katey Sagal absolutely makes artwork out of Gemma Teller, her strong-willed, fierce mother and lover, and committed SAMCRO matriarch. She's manipulative to boot, but also utterly passionate, intelligent, and perceptive. And she has a strong sympathetic side that allows her to make the human connections that end up at times saving the club.
Her performance is strongly supported and driven by Charlie Hunnam as Jax. He plays the role perfectly, though it not be a nuanced performance. He's very believable as an extremely clever, idealistic, slightly impulsive but straight-thinking prodigy torn between conflicting paths - and conflicting father figures: the very present Clay and dead but ghostly John. Clay is in turn portrayed by a powerfully convincing Ron Perlman, the distinguishable actor who has perfected the role of hardened anit-hero. He and Sagal are magnetic on the screen. And Hunnam squeezes right in.
As Jax's in-progress girlfriend Tara, Maggie Siff (whose previous most memorable role was as Don Draper's early romantic affair Rachel Katz on Mad Men) has created a nice niche for herself amongst this group of outstanding actors. Over the seasons, she has made her character one of the most relatable and sympathetic figures on the show. Her transformation from hesitant weakling to bold MC "old lady" (Gemma's prodigy) has been quite a pleasure to watch.
The secondary cast members have often been equally as interesting and challenging figures. For example, the FBI agent who complicates life for SAMCRO quite a bit and the local Sheriff who aids them on that side of the law further contribute to the show's dynamism. Less central members of the club - such as Piney and Tig - also do their part to add enrichening layers.
Kurt Sutter, show creator and previous head writer for other masterpiece The Shield, has invented a startling, enticing portrait of a very unique and engaging alternative to the American family. Sons of Anarchy is a must-watch for anyone craving intelligent, ambitious, original and just plain fun dramatic programming. Do not be deterred by its focus on a slice of life very unfamiliar - and thus possibly a turn-off - for most of us. The further it digs, the more familiar it gets - and the more we can't help but to get emotionally involved, without having to ask "why?"