Ridin’ through this world, all alone, God takes your soul, You’re on your own… so if you’re in need of passing some time, you may as well tune in to one of the most criminally underrated shows about criminal activity of the 21st century.
Sons of Anarchy burst onto TV screens in the US on September 3, 2008, and ten years later I am still disturbed by the number of people who have never even seen an episode.
Raised on a combo of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood – shoutout to my Dad’s mate Doug who had a lot of VHS cassettes to get rid of in my youth – this modern western series tells the story of the OG chapter of a global motorcycle club, and immediately captures viewers. ‘I don’t really like westerns’ you say, well have you ever heard of a chap called Bill Shakespeare? Well this is Hamlet with bikes, sex, drugs, guns, the IRA, and a healthy dose of rock and roll – and not in a devised drama A-level way.
Check it out, and this is just season one:
Running for a further six seasons, there was more action than Breaking Bad, plus as much sex, murder, and intrigue as Game of Thrones (There’s less incest – so dealer’s choice on if that ruins a show for you). And yet, with only one award to the series’ name as a whole, the 2013 ASCAP Top Television Series, the show’s lacked the critical acclaim which would perhaps draw in the hipster late coming enjoyed by Walter White and GoT.
That said, individual performers such as Katey Sagal and a stellar soundtrack have rightly scooped numerous accolades.
So the show is on the radar but confined to the realm of ‘cult classic’ despite a well above-average critic score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
As a non-viewer in the ten years you’ve been living under a rock, what have you really missed?
Let’s just start with the cast.
Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Katey Sagal (Futurama & 8 Simple Rules…), Charlie Hunnam (Cold Mountain, Children of Men, and, well let’s just gloss over Green Street), Maggie Siff (Mad Men), Ryan Hurst (Saving Private Ryan and Remember The Titans), Tommy Flanagan (Gladiator, Braveheart, and Sin City), Kim Coates (Prison Break), Mark Boone Junior (Batman Begins and Memento), and that’s not mentioning some of the later cameos from the likes of Henry Rollins.
It’s a powerhouse lineup with something for everyone. Meanwhile, if you took Bryan Cranston away from season one of Breaking Bad, be honest, would you really have stuck around? Bob Odenkirk didn’t arrive till season two remember, so I’d wager the lure for many was the same as my own; wanting to see Malcolm’s dad morph into a meth cook.
SOA is definitely not real life. It’s about escapism and deep down we all want to be the badass. This show is full of them, and they aren’t all white men on bikes as you may presume. It has strong characters from every walk of life, strong women who overcome the tag of ‘old lady’, plus strong black, Latino and LGBT+ leads, while difficult questions and outdated preconceptions are tackled head on by Kurt Sutter’s writing.
Kim Coates’ character Tig’s attraction to transgender woman, Venus Van Dam, and issues surrounding Juice’s black heritage, played by Theo Rossi, are evidence of Sutter’s creation of a world where the brutal life of a criminal enterprise are potent, but without the need to lose actual humanity by encouraging stereotypes via plot devices.
The plot does get very complicated, with every character having their own ambitions which aren’t reliant on the main plot but prove fascinating all the same.
The story at the heart of it all, however, is that of Jax Teller, who finds a manuscript written by his deceased father, outlining his wish to make the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club a legit enterprise.
The story is ultimately one of introspection, and trying to improve the world you live in for those you love, while battling with the difficult reality you can’t have everything you want in life, and your wants will likely clash with those of some of your nearest and dearest.
If that isn’t a show that’s relatable at its core, I don’t know what is.
Of the show’s lack of recognition, Sutter calmly remarked on Twitter, as per Deadline:
The worse part of not getting any Emmy nods is all the wasted blowjobs I gave at the Academy picnic. My breath still smells like sour ammonia… Because you know if we were nominated I’d be all humble and blowing smoke up their asses. Now I can stay true to myself and just be a dick.
That may sound like a bitter rant, but it also lends itself to fans in knowing they are why the series exists. It is made to entertain them, rather than being a sterile mess.
— susanne (@3_busan) August 31, 2017
Oh and the fans really love it. SAMCRO earned themselves a score of 92 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, based on user reviews.
And the sheer number of Sons of Anarchy fan tattoos you’ll find with a quick Google is a solid indicator this show has resonated and earned a strong place in pop culture.
— Madz (@madz414) March 17, 2015
It isn’t perfect however, and that’s why this article pertains to SOA being underrated as opposed to being ‘the greatest show’ of the past two decades.
There have been a few mistakes along the way. Season Three’s family vacation to Belfast was a strange decision to make so early and, along with the celtic edit of the ‘This Life’, felt gimmicky.
The show also fell into a bit of a predictable rhythm with storylines. Yes those stories are entertaining, often complex, but you know Jax’ charter will inevitably have a criminal adversary, a criminal ally who was probably once the adversary, an uneasy alliance with law enforcement of some description, and a member will inevitably face a decision that puts their allegiance to the club at loggerheads with their own quest for self-preservation.
That sounds reductionist, but it’s basically true of every season.
A redeeming quality is the show’s ending. And without completely removing your need to watch it, the story eventually goes full circle. The ending ties up a lot of loose ends, but is cathartic in its simplicity which enables you to come back, enjoy, then step away once more.
While a misstep for the likes of Lost, this option is a refreshing quality for SOA in an era of television which thrives on concepts such as Making A Murderer, where remaining questions frustrate an audience into keeping the conversation going.
While the points just mentioned do take the wind out of the sails a tad, they are no reason not to sit down and finally enjoy SOA.
It is a thrill ride, which sometimes fell foul of chasing what producers knew worked, but cheap thrills are thrills nonetheless.
So hop on board for seven seasons of adrenaline pumping action, and stories you will want to live vicariously through safe in the knowledge that you’d never actually survive that life, nor would you choose it.
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