Show of the Day: Sons of Anarchy

12 Jul

I’ve watched Sons of Anarchy over the last couple of months, in drips and drabs and spurts, generally watching a few in a row, and then taking a break between seasons, and it’s probably the biggest TV series backlog project that I’ve taken on in quite a while.  (Downton Abbey, the other series I caught up on earlier this spring was only two seasons, and one of them was especially short).  I temporarily forget the different speed and intensity and blurring together that happens when watching many epsidoes of a show in a row, rather than week to week, year to year.  For that reason, I’ve found people who watch a show marathon-style versus as it airs sometimes come to different conclusions and opinions about series.

I’ve gone back and forth in my opinion of Sons of Anarchy overall.  I’m going to hopefully post another piece or two on the show; this one will be an overview without specific spoilers.  Right now, I feel like SoA is a good show, but not a great show, like the Sopranos, or The Wire, or the Breaking Bads, or Mad Mens of the world.  That’s not really all that much of an insult; those are the very top hour long TV shows of the past fifteen years, and not many shows will match them.  Still, it bears saying.  Sons of Anarchy resides somewhere in the tier of a Boardwalk Empire, or a Friday Night Lights; very good but also flawed enough to prevent them from reaching the pinnacle (I know many people would have my head for not putting Friday Night Lights above these, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Here’s the basic premise.  Main character Jackson Teller (“Jax” for short) is the Vice President and heir apparent of the Charming, California branch of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club.

Pause a second:  It’s interesting to note, that the way I felt about the motorcycle club culture in Sons of Anarchy mirrors the way I felt about Dixie mafia culture watching Justified; they were cultures I couldn’t relate to and had absolutely no idea existed.  This contrasts with, say, east cost Italian mafia culture of Sopranos, which The Godfather and Martin Scorsese basically made the go-to organized crime syndicates, and which often take place in New York or other Northeastern metropolitan areas.

So, Sons of Anarchy is a motorcycle club with branches all over the western United States, but the founding and head branch, nicknamed Samcro, for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original stands in fictional “city” Charming which seems to be having a shit ton of issues for a town of 20,000 people, half the size of the suburban town I’m from.  Charming is in Northern California.  Samcro legitimately operate a mechanic shop, and illegitimately run guns, operate protection rackets, and participate in a number of other profit generating activities, though notably not drugs.  Most of their money comes from their gun trade.  They also run the town, having the sheriff and county police in their pocket, and basically commit crimes openly in the streets with their Sons of Anarchy jackets on with no repercussions.   What’s amazing is that they do all this with only about eight people total in their charter.  But this is how it goes.

Jackson Teller is the son of dead co-founder of the club John Teller, and in the first episode, Jackson finds a manuscript John left him about change he wanted for the club.  His mother, Gemma Teller is now married to the club’s co-founder and current president Clay Morrow.   The central conflict of the show is often between Jax and Clay, and just as often is not.

My quick take early on was to view Sons of Anarchy as an inverse of the Sopranos formula.  Instead of the patriarch, Tony in Sopranos, and Clay in Sons of Anarchy, being the primary character, it as if the heir, which would be, and I’m aware this is extremely loose analogizing, Christopher in Sopranos was the star.  Obviously a lot of things happen over the course of Sopranos that change Christopher and Tony’s relationship, and Jax is already VP when the show begins, higher up than Christopher, but I think as a very basic rubric that approach holds true.  Jax is constantly juggling what’s best for his club and what’s best for his family, as well as how to keep moving the club forward without endangering everything he believe in.

The three main characters are certainly Jax, Clay, and Gemma, but also main cast members are other members of the Sons, and Jax’s high school sweetheart who just moved back to Charming, Tara.  The other Sons include, Seargeant at Arms Tig, an enforcer who is kind of insane, Chibs, a chipper Scotsman who is generally loyal to Jax, Bobby “Elvis” Monson, the overweight long-suffering treasurer, Piney, John Teller’s best friend and Sons co-founder, Opie, Piney’s son and Jax’s best friend, and Juice, the younger Puerto Rican hacker.  The corrupt yet friendly older sheriff named Unser is a fairly important character as is his younger no-nonsense associate who can’t wait to take over and take on SAMCRO. The different members of SAMCRO get occasionally important stories depending on episode, while Clay, Jax, and Gemma have key stories in just about every episode.

There’s your cast of characters and some quick spoiler free information.  More in depth plot discussion will have to wait for future posts.

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