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“Sons of Anarchy” Proves Cable Deeper, More Provocative Than Broadcast

Aymar Jean Christian November 23, 2009 uncategorized 4 Comments

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Originally posted at Ronebreak. Please comment there!

The penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday at 10PM, with a 90-minute season finale the following week. You can catch up on episodes at Hulu or iTunes, or you can check Sidereel for more options.

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It takes The Sopranos and adds neo-Nazis. It grafts onto Hamlet a throng of motorcycles. Sons of Anarchy, FX’s drama about a California motorcycle gang, is among the best and highest rated shows on cable, so why haven’t you been watching it?

The show wasn’t on my radar until TVbytheNumbers‘ Robert Seidman started to notice its ratings outperform in the second season. The show has been excelling among viewers 18 to 49 — the only viewers that matter — winning that demographic among scripted cable television for several nights this season.

I’m a sucker for a hit, so I jumped on the bandwagon, caught up on the storyline via Wikipedia (I never do this, but I’m too busy to watch all of season one) and instantly got hooked. Sons is all testosterone:  motorcycles, babes, porn, guns, blood and drugs. But it’s a also good story about generational change, honor, loyalty, community, small town America, police corruption and class and racial differences. Like classics Sopranos and The Wire and current critical darling Breaking Bad, it shows us a more complex picture of crime in America, honoring the outlaws’ rich history and interpersonal dramas with a story as much about ethics as about selling guns and making money off smut.

This season explores the inner politics of the Sons of Anarchy, the eponymous motorcycle club who share and compete for territory with Latino, black and other groups in Northern California. The group’s president has committed a crime against one of its members and its vice president, whose father was once a member and has written a book-length cautionary tale about the group’s history, is angling for a takeover. Meanwhile, well-endowed white supremacists have moved into Charming and are looking to run the club out of town.

The show’s portrayal of American nationalists is brave and controversial. Who knows how many of the show’s fans actually sympathize with the racists (they’re clearly the bad guys, but they are given screen time to explain their actions). Sons is willing to go to ugly places. It makes good drama, as unsettling as it is.

But the real drama is between Jax, the smart and confident young gun who’s poised to be king, and the club’s reigning president, Clay, who is brash and inelegant as a leader. We’re supposed to identify with Jax, but we still care about Clay, who, despite his faults, is a good husband and deeply dedicated to the group.

Sons of Anarchy is further proof cable understands compelling drama. FX’s roster of Damages (more a shiny trophy than a moneymaker), Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck makes for a nice group of serious shows. Past success The Shield and The Riches (brilliant but canceled) show the network is developing a reputation, much like AMC, TNT and USA are doing and pay-cable behemoths HBO and Showtime have already done.

 

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

4 Comments

  1. marcy December 18, 2009 at 3:27 am

    I don’t think it right at all just when I was watching every tuesday the last episode that aired the asshole leprcaun father kidnapped the baby I wanna see how everything plays out I don’t watch much t v but when I do they stop airing the show. Why?

  2. Aymar Jean Christian December 18, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Well, they won’t stop airing this show for awhile. It was renewed for a third season.

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