True confessions: I never much liked The Sopranos. I could appreciate how stylish it was, how biting the wit was, how counterintuitively lovable the characters were. It was about three degrees too far for me personally (thank you so much for crushing that stripper’s skull!), and I had a hard time buying into the angst of a man who could have solved a lot of his problems by, you know, deciding not to kill people anymore. Still, I could see how the epic tale played into the classic rhythms of rise and fall we so easily embrace in drama.
Enter Sons of Anarchy, which walks the same thin line. Pulling back the veil on a California motorcycle gang, the show asks us to both be drawn to and repulsed by characters who make a living doing awful things. It’s stylishly made and has some mordant wit. The cast is appealling, with stars like the terrific Ron Perlman (hello, Hellboy!) as the club president and welcome bit players like Theo Rossi (Veronica Mars) and Dayton Callie (Deadwood) popping up to add color. Even Charlie Hunnam (Queer as Folk), as the golden boy son of the club’s late founder, is better than usual here.
Best of all is Katey Sagal (Futurama, 8 Simple Rules…), magnificent and menacing as Gemma, the club founder’s widow and the current president’s wife. The show is set up to be Hamlet, with Hunnam’s character uncovering his dad’s much more pacifist dreams for the club and intimations abounding that the older generation is keeping secrets. As Hamlet’s…er, Jax’s mother, Sagal should be Gertrude, a woman who makes us wonder how complicit she is in the tragedy we see unfolding. Sagal is much more in the mold of Lady Macbeth, however, pulling the strings behind the scenes. This is a woman who tosses a Bible containing a syringe full of very bad stuff at the druggie mother of her grandson and snarls, “I suggest you turn to Jesus.” Yikes. The show is about five degrees too much for me (thank you so much for putting that ax in some guy’s skull!), but for those with stronger constitutions, Sagal is worth seeking out this show. Wednesdays at 10pm Eastern on FX.