Sons of Anarchy Season 1 (2008) TV Review

Another Binge Worthy Series

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Like “Breaking Bad”, I missed “Sons of Anarchy” during it’s initial run of Television.  The show always intrigued me but I never got around to trying to catch up for the current seasons.  Now that the dust has settled and I finished several others shows in my catalog, I decided it was time to check out this acclaimed drama.   Similar to “Breaking Bad” I wished I started  this sooner because this is a well written, and addicting drama.  Memorable characters and binge worthy plots top the list of what makes this compelling show work as a whole.   Creator and showrunner Kurt Sutter has given us a crime epic that is sure to only grow from here.

“Sons of Anarchy” follows a biker gang out in California named the Sons of Anarchy.  The gang uses a mechanics shop as a front for their illegal business where they run guns and other trades across the town.  Facing rising pressure from rival gangs, the Sons of Anarchy have the cunning to stay in power and stay out of trouble from the FBI.  For club vice president Jax (Charlie Hunnam), the time has been marked by rising complications.  His ex-wife had their baby premature, an old flame returns and mounting philosophical beliefs arise after the discovery of his father’s old journal; whom started the gang along with his step father Clay (Ron Perlman).

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“Sons of Anarchy” rests very comfortably in the same world as “The Sopranos”, and “The Godfather” with hard crime, blurred morality, the American dream, tragedy, family, bonds of loyalty and danger around every turn.  I of course don’t mean the show takes place in the same reality as the other two properties.  Instead I mean they inhabit similar themes and troupes.  Many shows or films have a difficult time separating themselves from their counterparts (look at all the “CSI” and “Law and Order” lookalikes).  “Sons of Anarchy” is very much in the same vein as its counterparts but creator Kurt Sutter plays at familiar stories with new angles and intricate characters.

The elements of morality are well at play here.    Our main character Jax has been entrench in this way of life for nearly his entire life.  Yet with the birth of his son and the uncovering of the past with his father and the formation of the club challenges him and in turn he challenges the club.  Never one to back away from a gruesome or dangerous job Jax knows he can be more but isn’t sure if he wants to be.  “Sons of Anarchy” are filled with characters like that.  Kurt Sutter is known from “The Shield” for creating dynamic characterization and intricate personal dilemmas.

Actor Charlie Hunnam plays this character to a tee.  A rather unknown English actor beforehand Hunnam comes off as tough, street smart, but also to convey a deep emotional resonance without coming across as overly brooding or annoyingly emotional.

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Impressively Sutter is able to weave in to the show a Shakespearian influence.  While he never overplays his hand and is very subtle in its delivery (to the point where I almost forget that there was suppose to be a Shakespearian influence).  Although it’s modernize, it flows very well into the overarching story at play here.  “Hamlet” is a key example of the playwright’s influence throughout the series.  It even has some of the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” (although done in a completely new fashion).

Thematically the show is well executed and the intrinsic characters will help you forget some of the more lackluster episodes of the season.  Although nearly all the episodes fire on all cylinders, a few are pretty forgettable.   The plots and issues surrounding those episodes are not always the show’s most interesting.  A minor complaint, especially once you get to the episodes leading up to the finale which are incredibly good.

The content of “Sons of Anarchy” is raw and brutal.  This may have been run on a cable network (FX) and it does have to hold back on some language and gratuitous nudity (although they try hard to work some of it) “Anarchy” is not for the faint of heart.  The violence can be brutal and does push some boundaries for cable TV.  One might wonder how this series might have played out on HBO but Sutter works in plenty of mature content that is necessary for the show’s story.

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A surprising quality of this series that I wasn’t expecting was Sutter’s wicked sharp sense of humor, both dark and light.  Before going into this series I wasn’t aware of that aspect of the show  and the humor is worked in at very key moments that bring a lot of levity to a pretty dark series.

The supporting cast is also strong.  Ron Perlman sounds like he’s smoked way to many cigarettes but is the perfect lead for the head of this club.  Perlman is tough, and emotional closed (because he wants to be that way).  Perlman makes for a strong presence on screen.  In many ways you see a lot of Perlman’s Clay in a young Jax.   But, Clay has more or less closed off his questions of morality and does what he thinks it best for the club.

We even had a few really strong female roles.  In a show full of headstrong masculinity it would be easy to throw the female characters aside.  Katey Sagal play Jax’s mother and Clay’s wife Gemma.  She is just as tough as the rest of the bikers who has her own demons and insecurities to wrestle with.  Maggie Siff plays Jax’s old flame Tara.  She returns to Charming after leaving Jax years ago.  She works at the hospital now and grows closer to Jax everyday (much to dismay of Gemma).  Siff is a strong performer and has grow into one my favorite characters of the show.

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The rest of the supporting cast also performs well.  The story of the Sons of Anarchy (or SAMCRO as called in the show) is wonderfully realized on screen with a highly impactful finale.  I was hooked from the first episode and is now my show to binge watch.

Final Score

8.5/10

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