So I'm watching this show called Sons of Anarchy because really smart people on the Internet talk all the time about how good it is. But it's not good. It's really stupid show about stupid people being stupid.
For those that don't know, Sons of Anarchy is about a motorcycle gang called The Sons of Anarchy. Rather than just hang out in bars and ride motorcycles, they're determined to do illegal stuff, too. As a result, they're constantly outwitting the law and other gangs.
The town they live in, Charming, is sort of a bottle universe that's small enough to be fully run by a gang of bikers, yet large enough to support organized crime. The show posits that only the Sons of Anarchy can keep the town safe from the world's true evils, but all we ever see is wanton death and destruction brought on by rivals and often the Sons themselves.
The show's main character is a young pretty boy named Jax. Jax's father was once in charge of the gang, but then he died, leaving behind nothing but an unpublished book about how the noble zen intentions of the gang went south when they started selling guns. The show kicks off with Jax finding this book and dedicating himself to bringing his father's ideas for the gang to fruition.
This proves difficult because Jax's stepfather and current president of the biker gang is very determined to keep selling guns, even though it brings nothing but misery and they don't seem to actually make any money off it. But the real thing keeping Jax down is his rampant stupidity. For instance, instead of going through his dad's book all at once, he seems only capable of reading roughly two paragraphs per episode. That's some seriously slow reading.
The appeal of joining this gang is supposedly all about being in a family, but they're really horrible to each other, like when the wife of an incarcerated member basically gets shaken down by the gang for half her successful porno business. This is after she lends them $50,000 and her husband brutalizes an ATF agent on their behalf.
It's also one of those shows that cranks up dramatic tension by having characters keep lots of secrets from each other, which is cheap and gets really annoying after a while. Most of the show's conflicts could be solved if people just spoke up a little, but they never do. Not only that, but the core conflict of the show between Jax and his stepfather, Clay, requires Clay to act really really stupid in order to show how smart Jax is. So Jax will say, "Don't walk into that trap, Clay!" and Clay will basically say "Fuck you, Junior!" and walk into the trap.
The general consensus is that Sons of Anarchy season one is okay, season two is fucking awesome, and season three has quality issues. I guess people like season two because it has a real bad guy and some slightly serious stuff happens.
The bad guy is a white supremacist businessman who moves into Charming determined to get rid of the Sons of Anarchy, so he can overdevelop the place and turn it into one big shopping mall. It's almost hilarious how poorly conceived this guy is. He basically spends each episode hatching a new scheme to get rid of the Sons, only one of which really works, and that doesn't even work for very long. He's a cartoon villain like Shredder or Gargamel, which would be fine except he carries with him the pretense of being in a "great show".
He also has Henry Rollins as his pit-bull right hand man. Rollins is inversely perfect for this show because his serious face is so serious that it becomes a parody. The show, of course, is unaware of this. I sometimes get the feeling that Sons of Anarchy knows it's a show about stupid white-trash gangsters with illusions of grandeur, but it seems unaware that it has these illusions itself.
Take Gemma, for instance. Played by the awesome Katy Sagal, Gemma introduced herself to us in season one as both a caring matriarch to the gang and a truly cold-hearted bitch. She was instantly the coolest, most exciting part of the show. But by season two, she's a religious softy who spends nearly every episode crying. Where she once impulsively hit a lady in the face with a skateboard, she now only hits people on accident and apologizes profusely afterword. This is supposed to be a dramatic transformation, but it's really just the show buying drama by selling out its most interesting character.
I often wonder with these critically acclaimed shows why people give them so many passes. With Sons of Anarchy, it's gotta be the truly incredible cast. Stupid show or not, it's a joy to see Ron Perlman really showcasing his range as an actor. Katy Sagal is great, too, as are the supporting bikers and police officers. Almost everyone is fun to watch, and that's certainly not without worth.
But like Dexter, Justified, and The Walking Dead, this is a low B-level show that acts like it has some real A-game shit going on. The real legacy of this "Golden Age of Television" will be a bunch of shows that flew too close to the sun rather than accepting and growing within their limitations. The moment Sons of Anarchy stops trying to be The Sopranos on Wheels and embraces its badass nature, it will finally become a show worth celebrating.