Calling the FX series Sons Of Anarchy “Hamlet on motorcycles” may seem awfully presumptuous, but that isn’t really a comparison, it’s a description. Charlie Hunnam stars as a conflicted second-generation biker, torn between his wicked stepfather Ron Perlman, his scheming mother Katey Sagal, and the advice left behind in his late father’s journals. In short, he’s a young man haunted by ghosts and struggling to restore moral order to his criminal family and to the Northern California town they essentially run. Over the course of the 13 episodes in the Sons Of Anarchy: Season One DVD set, Hunnam frets over his sickly infant son, rekindles an old romance with a virtuous doctor, and tries to protect his oldest friends in the Sons Of Anarchy Motorcycle Club (Redwood Original) as a war heats up between SAMCRO and a rainbow coalition of gun-runners, drug dealers, hired killers, and government agents.
Creator Kurt Sutter—a former writer-producer on The Shield—helms a show that’s well-acted, twisty, and often shocking, with a distinctive take on a little-understood subculture. Is it a realistic take? Probably not, but who cares? Clearly Sutter and his writers have done some research into the codes and rituals of motorcycle gangs, but Sons Of Anarchy is largely sensationalized too, playing up the sex, violence, and macho bluster of hard men in leather and chains. And hooray for that. Sons Of Anarchy bears some relation to The Shield and The Sopranos in that it takes viewers deep inside a world with arcane rules and unconventional ideas about right and wrong. The guides are colorful characters who live a little bigger than the rest of us, heeding the show’s theme-song advice to “look this life in the eye.”
Sons Of Anarchy balances the common intrigue of scoundrels at work with a fair assessment of how this life affects their women. Unlike The Sopranos, where the domestic lives of gangsters provided an ironic counterpoint, in Sons Of Anarchy, Sagal and her fellow wives, mothers, and girlfriends are intimately involved with what goes on at the club, because they’re all working toward an ideal of personal freedom, removed as much as possible from government intervention. Sons Of Anarchy can get overheated, with its blustery talk of loyalty and strength, and after a decade of similar antihero TV shows, its seedy milieu does feel overly familiar. But there’s definitely something distinctive about the way Sutter and company depict a group of rough guys and gals who have a real sense of conviction, and who don’t trust well-meaning agitators like Hunnam. Everyone has to be a little dirty in SAMCRO, or else their world starts to crumble.
Key features: Some too-short featurettes, and insightful cast and crew commentary on select episodes.