It's amazing how quickly groundbreaking becomes conventional. That's certainly true of TV's love affair with anti-heroes and morally ambiguous characters. Once upon a time, they were seldom seen. In the nine years since HBO's "The Sopranos" premiered, these rough-edged characters have become the norm.
They certainly rule in FX's "Sons of Anarchy," which can be boiled down to this: It's "The Sopranos" on motorcycles with a slightly less complex, less subtle psychological component.
Instead of detailing the life of a mob "family," "Sons" focuses on a violent, law-breaking biker gang, the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original. Just as in a mob family, there's a boss, Clay (Ron Perlman, "Hellboy," "Beauty and the Beast"), who's president of the club. His stepson, Jax (Charlie Hunnam), is vice president.
- When: 10 tonight, FX.
- Starring: Charlie Hunnam
None of these comparisons is meant to detract from "Sons," an engrossing drama in its own right and the most commercially appealing series FX has premiered in quite some time. "Sons" introduces memorable characters, particularly Jax's lioness mother, Gemma (Katey Segal). She's hiding secrets about Jax's deceased father, secrets that Jax begins to unearth in tonight's premiere.
"Sons" also differs from "Sopranos" in that it is told primarily from the point of view of a son rather than his father. Jax is the central character, and he's enormously likable despite his occasionally wicked ways. Credit British actor Hunnam, perhaps best known to TV audiences for his role on Fox's 2001 series "Undeclared," for making Jax so embraceable. Even in the pilot, you get the sense that he's smart and wants to do the right thing -- you see it in his hesitancy to take a life. Going forward, it appears an overriding theme of the series will be a struggle between good and evil to claim Jax's soul with only Jax's conscience -- and the writings of his late father -- on the side of good.
Leading the charge for evil are Clay and Gemma, the toughest of tough chicks. She brooks no dissent and proves to be as cold and calculating as the guys, perhaps more so. Segal gives Gemma an aloof ruthlessness that's a far cry from her comedic roles, although you can see a bit of Peg Bundy in Gemma's sense of humor.
The gang is full of colorful characters, including a recent parolee (Ryan Hurst), one Jewish member (Mark Boone Jr.), an Irishman (Tommy Flanagan) and a young prospect (Johnny Lewis) who lost his right testicle in the Iraq War. Other characters include Jax's ex-wife, Wendy (Drea de Matteo, "The Sopranos"), who gives birth to their first child tonight; Tara (Maggie Siff, "Mad Men"), a pediatrics doctor Jax once dated; corrupt police chief Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie, who played Charlie Utter on "Deadwood"); and his more scrupulous deputy, David Hale (Tayler Sheridan).
Gritty and occasionally violent, "Sons" was created by Kurt Sutter, an executive producer on "The Shield." As "The Shield" prepares to bow out, "Sons" should capably fill the smart, testosterone-fueled void.
Read TV editor Rob Owen's review of last night's premiere of the new "90210".
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1112.