Motorcycle gangs. Shoot outs. Tough guys. Rock 'n roll. This is a MAN'S show, correct? No soapy stuff here. Not correct. This is through and through a SOAP OPERA, disguised with the leather jackets and tough guys. Don't get me wrong - this is an excellent show. It is definitely captivating, the acting is great, and it is NON-STOP drama and action. As far as one of the best shows EVER? I think some people are getting ahead of themselves.
The thing that really separates the epitome of excellent television (The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad) from very good television (Sons of Anarchy, for example), is the fact that in the first types of shows, people don't really change. This mimics real life, where people generally remain relatively the same over long periods of time once they reach a certain age. Of course people can do complete 180s in their lives and change, but at the core....people generally remain the same. EXCELLENT television is generally a little slow moving in character development, since in real life people don't change from day to day. These shows don't rely on cheap thrills and love triangles and constant jaw-dropping character changes and motives. They have to rely on...wait for this....great writing.
Enter Sons of Anarchy. It is one of the biggest rollercoaster emotional ride experience on television, with people and their motives CONSTANTLY changing and evolving from episode to episode. People get kidnapped, everyone is a liar and a backstabber, and one minute something is a crucial element to the plot, and the next it's dropped/forgiven/forgotten. The writers are masters at creating drama and non-stop action, but as far as realistic portrayals of human beings (something that the show is trying to achieve - make us empathize with these characters), this gets a 4/10. They are the show that relies on cheap thrills and twists to make a show. Does it make it bad? Not necessarily. Not every show is made to be in the ranks of shows like The Sopranos. Kurt Sutter has commented that all of the excess, ridiculous, over-the-top drama is purposeful and for good television. This is quite probable, but is it an excuse or the truth? With the way some of the characters act (Gemma in particular), I believe that the show is trying to make me feel like this show is more than just constant drama and twists, but something more deep and meaningful. And I'm not feeling it.
The acting is really great, there is no denying that. I'm still not convinced that I buy Ron Perlman (Clay) as tough biker, but I've come to deal with it. This is a very Clay-focused season. Katey Sagal as Gemma is wonderful as always, and is absolutely superb with the material she is given. My only problem with her character is that sometimes the writers push the "matriarch" card a little too hard. Ever see the end of Mystic River, where the wife gives Sean Penn that "king" speech? Every time Gemma talks it sort of reminds me of that, and it's a little annoying after 4 seasons. Also, Maggie Siff as Tara Knowles continues to bore the hell out of me, and it's been obvious since season 1 that they are setting her up to become the new "matriarch" of the club. Predictable/cliche, much?
I also still can't forgive the sudden drop of Wendy (Drea de Mateo) in season 2. In season 1 she is living with Jax and there is a major storyline between Gemma/Tara/Wendy, and in the next season Wendy completely dropped off the face of the earth along with the storyline, and then she returns this season.....? Disjointed storylines like this are never signs of excellent television. Her character was inconvenient for the growth of Tara/Jax, so they just dropped her. Lazy writing.
Charlie Hunnam is an amazing actor (can you believe he is a British stage actor?) and totally convincing for his role. Everyone else is very good - I love Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior, Theo Rossi, Tommy Flanagan, and probably my favorite - Dayton Callie as Wayne Unser. He was terrific in Deadwood, and equally great in this show. The show still has a total obsession with using Deadwood characters - over 13 to date, but that's a great thing and they make a great addition to the show. This season we're joined by Ray McKinnon, another Deadwood actor (the Reverend!) as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lincoln Potter, and as usual, this guy is just amazingly weird and a terrific addition to the cast.
SoA is not lacking in drama or great acting, but I think a more slow-paced show (somewhat like the first season) would do it justice and make it a little less silly and a little more gritty. I definitely recommend this show to anyone though that is interested in a high-action, intense, dramatic show with lots of twists, turns, extremely sappy moments and great acting performances. Even with the all of the criticism I gave it, it's still easily in the top 10 best dramas currently on television, hence the high rating. I'm definitely not going to stop watching.