Motorcycles and muscle men! What more could you ask for in your Wednesday-night television?
OK, truth told, I could ask for a wee bit more, and I'm not totally yet sold on FX's Sons of Anarchy, which premieres tonight, but my partner in crime, Jennifer Godwin is already stone-cold addicted, and she's been basically mainlining SOA since we first got screeners. Click in for her breakdown of Anarchy's appeal. Plus, what the creator and stars had to say at the show's premiere party about the stories to come...
Jen here, and long story short: I want to marry Sons of Anarchy, help it sell guns, wear its leather jacket and have a million of its meth-addicted premature babies.
Long story long? Let's start here: Fairy tales, generally speaking, are not suitable for children. As the collective memory of barbarian tribes, fairy tales tend to be rife with ogres, trolls and dragons because life in the wild is nasty, brutish and short.
All of which is to say: FX's new motorcycle gang series, Sons of Anarchy, is essentially an original-flavor fairy tale, where only gruesome, primitive violence defeats rampaging monsters.
The magical kingdom of this tale is Charming—an isolated town on the edge of the redwood forests of California. (Imagine an inversion of Stars Hollow, Conn., the hometown of Gilmore Girls: Charming is just as improbable, but it runs on unleaded and testosterone instead of whimsy and estrogen.) The warrior sect that protects Charming from modern monsters like methamphetamine is a motorcycle club called the Sons of Anarchy. Locally, at least, the Sons and their familiars are the reigning champions in the Darwinian war of all against all, but their standing is constantly under siege, especially since they live beyond the reach of any standard social contract.
The iron-fisted barbarian keeping the Sons at the top of Charming's food chain is Ron Perlman's Clay Morrow; Katey Sagal's Gemma is his witty, witchy consort. But Sons of Anarchy is not, essentially, about Charming's current bosses.
Sons of Anarchy is about Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), Gemma's boy by John Teller. John was Clay's brother-in-arms and a cofounder of the Sons, and he is the absent but influential King Hamlet/Mufasa/Uther Pendragon/Obi-Wan of this tale. Jax, you see, is a prince by birth and bearing, but to eventually be worthy of his father's crown, he'll probably have to change the Sons, the town and himself quite a bit.
The impetus for Jax's long transformation begins in the pilot with the birth of his son, Abel, and by the return to Charming of his long-lost love (Maggie Siff). These concurrent arrivals and a fortuitously timed message from the great beyond cause him to question what legacy he'll leave his own family—the thug life bequeathed him by his own parents, or something better?
If it's going to work long-term, and I'm pretty sure it will, I think Sons of Anarchy has to be about Jax's journey from temperamental, indulged man-child to lonely seeker alone in the wilderness to worthy leader. You've all heard this one before—it's written into the nature of universe—but from what I've seen of the first episodes, Sons does an outstanding job of renewing this old yarn with compelling new setting and characters. Want to know more about this particular hero's journey? I hit up the premiere last week, so check out the promo vid below and then read on for the goods from the cast and creator...
That's Lord and Lady Vader to You, Buddy: According to Sagal (who is married in real life to Sons of Anarchy creator and Shield alum Kurt Sutter), if Gemma and Clay are your parents (metaphorical or biological), you've got a serious defensive team on your side: "Gemma would go to any length to protect her family, and I don't think she has one thought about it." As for Clay, Perlman said, "Clay will never loosen up. He's type-A all the way. He only has one point of view: Win at all costs. And protecting his turf and his family and his club—he feels about those responsibilities the same way a king would feel about protecting a sovereign nation." Say what you will about the Sons, but they aren't slackers!
Unexpectedly, Jax is probably on steadier ground with his stepfather than with his mama dearest. Perlman said, "Jax and Clay have a deep adoration for each other," while according to Sagal, "I don't think Gemma trusts anyone entirely. She's a survivor. People that come through something dark in their lives, trust is a major issue. Gemma's out for Gemma."
A New Hope: As Tayler Sheridan, who plays Charming's cranky (but decent and uncorrupt) Deputy Chief of Police David Hale, put it, "Clay is gone. Clay will be killed or arrested, one of the two, it's a foregone conclusion, but there's still a good soul in Jax." So, in the hope that a little proactive community-minded police work might save the whole town from eventually going up in flames, Hale encourages Jax to lead the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Original Redwood Charter (SAMCRO for short, and yes that abbreviation doesn't really break down right) in a less violent, destructive direction.
Any chance of that working? Maybe, according to Charlie Hunnam, "Jax just wants to be there for his son, and a lot of his decisions and actions in the past may have jeopardized that as an option. There's no way he's ever going to turn his back on this club, but there are also certain realities to living the lifestyle that he's been living that may make it impossible for him to be a good father."
I believe if you check the circle of life chart on the back of your Lion King DVD you'll see that kids come before parents, so if I were Gemma and Clay I'd keep a weather eye on the horizon, because Jax is a comer. (As is Hunnam himself—magazine covers galore in that kid's future. Count on it.)
"I'm Not in It for You, Princess!" If you watched season one of Mad Men, you already know Maggie Siff from her turn as department-store boss Rachel Mencken, but if you've never seen her work before, you're in for a treat. Her character, Tara, was Jax's high school sweetheart, but she's been away for years and is just now back in town as a pediatric resident at the local hospital. According to Siff, "Why Tara left will reveal itself more over the course of the season, but it's safe to say that she's somebody who made a really different choice with her life. She decided that she didn't want to be attached to someone who was basically going to be a criminal and put himself in harm's way every day." Charlie Hunnam's theory about Tara's return, delivered complete with a cheeky grin? "Because she couldn't live without me."
Being Blown Up Is Not My Primary Function! Sons has an all-star cast, and believe it or not, Hunnam, Sagal, Perlman and Siff are just the beginning. Also look for these familiar faces:
As Katey Sagal said, "I'm not just saying this because I'm Kurt's wife, really, but the scripts for this show are consistently amazing." From what I've seen so far, she totally speaks the truth, even if she is married to the man in charge and therefore fundamentally biased. If you want to judge for yourself, Sons of Anarchy premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on FX.
—Reporting by Jennifer Godwin