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Monday, November 09, 2009

SEPINWALL ON SONS



Wanted to share this article from one of the smarter critics out there.  I love the way Alan Sepinwall critiques and challenges TV.  His reviews aren't just snarky opinions, they're brainstorming sessions where he asks as many questions as he does give answers.  This is a guy who fucking loves television and desperately wants it to be/get/stay good.  Anyway, he's digging SOA right now, so I know it's easy for me to pat him on the back.  Just remember I said all this in case he's trashing me next season.  (And yes, there will be a next season.  Season three is a big renegotiating year.  A lot of two-year contracts are up.  FX is getting their financial ducks in a row.  I have faith that they will announce the pick up before the end of this season.)

"Sons of Anarchy Finds Another Gear" -- Alan Sepinwall - NJ Star Ledger

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how setting an end date can be a shot in the arm to a drama series. “Lost,” “The Shield” and “Battlestar Galactica” all took major upswings in quality after their creators were allowed to start planning toward a specific finish. When you don’t have to worry about being on the air past a certain date, you can take greater risks, not worry about maintaining the status quo — or, in some cases, about keeping characters alive — and the stakes feel higher, the drama richer. 

FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” has somehow reached that higher gear without having the finish line anywhere in sight. It’s in only its second season, one of the most successful scripted shows on cable (it made headlines a few weeks ago for finishing ahead of Jay Leno in the 18-to-49 demographic), and FX no doubt wants to keep it on the air for a long, long time. (The cable channel, which tends to be conservative about renewals, has yet to formally order a third season.)

But “Sons” creator Kurt Sutter (a Jersey guy and former “Shield” writer) doesn’t seem to be worrying about the long-term right now. Conflicts are brewing in the show’s world of bikers and cops and meth dealers that many dramas would be afraid to get to for years, if ever. Each episode feels as if it could end with the characters all drawing their guns and shooting each other (including the ones who are allegedly friends and/or family), and the tension and sense of dread somehow builds week after week after week. It’s one of the best dramas on television (neck and neck with “Mad Men” in many weeks) and seems to get better and better.

I would call tomorrow night’s extra-long episode (it’ll run in a 90-minute time slot, albeit with only 55 minutes of content, so brace yourself for some long commercial breaks) a new creative peak, except that I’ve seen the episode the week after, and in many ways, it’s even more intense.

We’ve reached a point in the season where Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), crown prince of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club, has gotten fed up with the Sons and all the drama around them. He knows that the club’s president (and Jax’s stepfather) Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) tried to have Jax’s best friend, Opie (Ryan Hurst), killed and accidentally murdered Opie’s wife instead, and he has to swallow that information because it would only lead to more violence and heartbreak. So Clay goes unpunished, and Jax’s attempts to wrest control of the club from him have only made things worse — and, to Jax’s disbelief, turned an ignorant Opie into Clay’s closest ally. And this civil war has come at a time when the club is under siege from a group of white separatists (whose leader is played by an ironically cast but quietly effective Adam Arkin) who want to take over the Sons’ gun-running operation. 

So as tomorrow’s episode has begun, Jax has decided to cut the cord with the club and “go nomad.” Only matters get even more complicated with the arrival of the club’s former gun supplier from True IRA, Jimmy O (Titus Welliver from “Deadwood”), a vicious man who wants back in with the club and will use a personal hold over club member Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) to get his way. 

There’s an epic feel to the proceedings, and that’s even before Jax’s indomitable mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal, who’s been doing Emmy-worthy work all season), hears what her son is planning and tries to stop him. 

Now, there’s a reason most TV show-runners don’t go all-in on their storytelling this soon. Sutter is steering all the characters to places from which he might not be able to bring them back, and assuming FX does plan on many more seasons, that could be a big problem. 

But right here, right now, “Sons of Anarchy” is 100 percent riveting. Enjoy it now, and worry about later seasons if and when we get there.
 

50 comments:

Tod S said...

Good to see a critic actually recognizing quality work. BTW - several of your FB friends are commenting on the meaning of the homeless woman. Any insight from you would be very interesting, but understand if we simply have to wait it out and make our own interpretation. Thanks for a great show.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see a critic regognizing quality work. BTW - some of your FB friends are commenting on the meaning of the homeless woman (shows up in season 1 finale, and again last week). Any insight by you would be great, but understand if we need to just wait it out and simply draw our own conclusions.

Geoff said...

Cool beans, I actually follow both your blog and his, but i'm sure you know about his blogsite.

Will you be able to bring the characters back from where you're putting 'em this season?

sla1996 said...

You made my whole day! I am so happy this great show will continue. SOA is by far the best show on tv. I am totally addicted. I can't wait for Tuedays. Please tell me Maggie Siff will be in season 3. I love Jax and Tara together.

mkiffin said...

Kurt - I began reading Sepinwall earlier this season when I realized he understand and appreciated the quality of SOA.
BTW -I agree with him - are we going to a place of no return? Things are so intense now, it's difficult to see how you can save the club!
However, I know you have a plan (just hope it doesn't involve losing any of my fav characters!)
Will also feel better with FX finally announces the renewal!! Love the show

mkiffin said...

BTW - Kurt - did you see this? It's from The Watcher site, written by Maureen Ryan. Question and answer style:


3rd of 5: What, to you, sets apart the good shows from the bad shows, or the great ones from the merely good?

Mo sez: You all are asking the hard questions today! Whatever happened to "Did 'The Unit' get canceled?"

Good shows have well-constructed plots, compelling characters and don't waste my time when I sit down to watch them. And sometimes good shows make the leap to greatness, as FX's fine "Sons of Anarchy" does in its Tuesday episode, which was exciting, surprising, dramatic, funny and reached down into my soul and made me feel incredible empathy for its characters.

The short version is: The really good dramas produce intense feelings in me as a viewer as they illuminate something profound or moving about the human condition. I feel deeply involved and invested in those worlds, which feel complete and mystifying and surprising.

The great shows sometimes make me cry, as happened with Tuesday's 90-minute "Sons of Anarchy." I'm going to try to write something longer about "SOA" soon, but suffice to say, you need to be watching this show. I'll put my praise in these terms: For me, Tuesday's "Sons of Anarchy" outing was as good as the best-acted and most emotionally engaging "Battlestar Galactica" episodes.

mkiffin said...

sorry - meant to send the URL for The Watcher:
http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/entertainment_tv/2009/11/lost-damages-chuck-friday-night-lights-.html

mkiffin said...

FYI
TV Guide asked for viewers to submit their favorite shows. I just saw the results: SOA received enough votes to rank #16 out of 100 -
http://www.tvguide.com/top-tv-shows

Denise Shelton said...

I was thinking the homeless woman could represent the younger Gemma or a "heavenly messenger" but knowing how Kurt feels about mystical creatures, I kind of doubt it. Whatever, I'm sure it will be great. (God forbid he goes all "Touched By an Angel" on us.)Can't wait for this week's episode!!!

Jeff said...

I think reviews like this just go to prove how SOA is that rare show that is both "critical darling" and water cooler phenom. My wife works at a Credit Union and she told me the first thing Wednesday morning is a lively discussion about the show. I also like how Mr. Sutter puts the not so kind remarks on the blog, although there probably arent that many.

East Coast said...

I knew there was something about N.J, I liked. Good to see there are still some critics out there who arent total buttwipes. lol

Hey, I'm curious?, what ever became of half sacks stripper girlfriend??

Support 81
East Coast Al

Theresa said...

Personally, I am thankful for 3 things this afternoon. First, confirmation that there will be a season 3 of SOA, second, that this posting confirms what we already knew-SOA is the only show worth watching on TV and the third, it's getting closer to episode 210. May you and yours continue to be blessed and the sucess of SOA continue. Theresa Privette

SP in PHX said...

35 Minutes of commercials? &%*$#@. I guess someone has to pay the bills! Bring it on! SP in PHX

therealzenobia said...

What he said! Things I hope do happen before Jax and Tara move to Austin, Tig becomes a priest, and Gemma kills Clay:
1. The Prospect gets patched and Jerri gets to be his old lady.
2. Unser gets a full club funeral.
3. Gemma kills Weston and Zoebelle.

p.s. Good to know the delay is not due to you killing off Stahl or something like that - maybe Stahl even lives through the season to haunt Charming and blow Hale another day.

therealzenobia said...

Tod, Don't forget that they say the author is the worst person to ask about this. Remember what Coppola says about such a question in Hearts of Darkness? "Only an asshole college professor would think that." If you get an answer, how will you know the answer isn't the whim of the day, or the result of a fifth of tequila, or of having just triumphed over 130 pounds of D-Girl?

The text is fixed: It has aired and can't be taken back. It lives on its own now, and it means what it means. Who wants a SparkNotes for Sons of Anarchy?

Okay, I do.

PatD64 said...

Fantastic!!!! Looking forward to tomorrow night and the arival of Jimmy O!!!!

WI_Debi said...

Excellent review, smart guy that Sepinwall.
*sigh*
I can't take the stress...You're killin' me. If I wasn't addicted (yes, I am admitting it and that's the first step) I'd stop watching til the end of the season and just watch it all in one big gulp on DVD. I don't know how you do it but I hate you and love you all at once and I wouldn't know you if we passed on the street. I am in awe of your talent, slavishly addicted to your show and praying for a Season 3. As always, in a most unstalker-esque fashion I wish you and yours good health, good fortune and god speed.

Caffiend said...

It's about time we got a longer episode man. I swear, well me and my wife, that you make the shortest goddamn 41 minutes of TV and every time we see that reaper we groan that it's over for another week.

Glad to see Bobby baking again and disturbed that Chucky is back. The two finger bit is disturbingly awesome though. Darby finally ran out his string from all appearances and underestimated the lengths to which Zobelle will go. It'll be sad to see Mitch go if that is in fact the case, but FUCKING TITUS! That's going to rock and of course that now makes three Deadwood refuges you have on the show which is pretty awesome in and off itself.

Speaking of that, the character development of Chief Unser and Hale so far has been awesome. They were pretty two dimensional first season although you did start ramping up Hale there towards the end. And Unser in episode 6 was fucking awesome.

Ugh, only 4 more to go and then a 9 month dry spell. I did it once, I can do it again and again and again.

Pointman said...

Sepinwall "called the ball" on SOA alright!
I enjoy how each episode unravels a new twist and the rush from it's release binds me until the next week...
I'm betting today's 90 min episode will rev the rest of the season to it's red line!
This show's throttle is WFO!

J said...

Funny thing abbout this show... season one I think it was mostly bikers and those that want to be watching... season two I am amazed how many mainstream freinds of mine ask if I have seen it... Kurt it is a great show and you have really accomplished reaching all people... I read somewhere in one of your blogs that one of the 81 or someone close to the 81 said it's our soap opera, pretty funny when you think about it, you got a bunch of macho hard types watching a soap! Damn you!

James W. said...

Kurt, I got a call from Nielsen to do one week study for watching programs. I specifically said yes so I can write down all the times I will watch SOA. I want to make sure people know that this show needs to be renewed. Comes on here twice on Tuesdays and again on the weekend. Will watch all three plus DVR. Thanks again from such a kick ass show.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know that I am not alone. I tell everyone about this show. Never in my life have I purchased a movie or television show - not a pay per view and nothing on video. I purchased the DVD set of this show! I still want more Opie (Ryan Hurst). I love the character, I love the acting and I LOVE to look at him. By the way, Thanks for the shirtless scene in the first season (Giving Back, I think was the episode name) and thanks for the classic boxers on both him and Jax - beyond SEXY! Next, THANKS FOR TITUS WELLIVER! Dude, who casts this show - It's got to be a female with awesome taste in men! (Katy got any input?) She should get an Emmy nod for her portrayal of Gemma.
Bottom Line: Great Show, Great Cast, and I loved Katy's cover of Son of a Preacher Man.

amcinla said...

You are a gifted writer in any forum. I can tell you are a thinker too. As a former journalist, I feel that is what good critics like Sepinwall see in you.

Good luck getting season 3!

WI_Debi said...

Saw a preview of an upcoming episode.....Is Tig crying over a dead kitten?!

God! You are a twisted fuck! :D

What *IS* his story? I've been asking the same question for months. Tell me! before my head explodes!!! please...I beg you....be a buddy, be a pal, be a friend, even though we've never met. I solemnly swear I will never, ever, call you names via the internet again. Although I may send them via private message on Twitter..but you know you love it. You'd miss us if we didn't comment ;)~

Bo Sun said...

Good thing we know that Kurt has SoA (generally) planned out for 7 seasons.

Can't wait for Season 3, and this one ain't even done yet!

Carl said...

http://www.nj.com/entertainment/tv/index.ssf/2009/11/sons_of_anarchy_balm_the_best.html

check it out

Jason Hinshaw said...

I have to totally agree. I keep watching this show and thinking "There is no way they can take the show where it seems to be heading and get away with it." The FX Network execs might be the coolest execs in the tv biz right now.

I've been watching Sons since day 1 and I've gotten a lot of people to watch. Keep it up, and I'll get even more.

Outsider said...

Clay...or 'Clarence' ....is the most wayward, twisted member of the crew and they follow him....I love that.

I thought Jax might become a witness protection guy without any law enforcement agencies tapping him....just hiding out in san fran or something....but not sure what's gonna happen now....

Erik said...

AHHHHH DAMN You Kurt! That was a great episode. You have a great talent of wringing it out at the end of every episode. Very well done. Only other show next to 24 that has me wanting the next week to speed by to see the next episode.

... oh and please do not kill off Piney. Once he gets out of his self pity I can see that character being a lynchpin.

Outsider said...

I don't think there's a shadow of a doubt that FX will renew....is he kidding? ...it is not
just entertainment it is art.....but it's hit art...

it cracks me up how the feds treat crime gangs
as science projects on a slide in reality and on the show....
social science projects but science projects nonetheless ...the same way they treat
violent religious cults

Silence Dugood said...

Still watching and digging your show.

Any chance you will publish John Teller's manifesto on-line or as a book (it would seem incredible if you actually wrote an entire fictional book to guide your show, but seeing your level of commitment to the show, you may have done so)? I think it would be a compelling read and would probably sell very well.

Anyhow, I have to agree with some of the other posters. You manage to send your characters close to the edge and somehow keep it rolling along, much like you did in "The Shield". Excellent writing -- this is the best drama on TV right now.

therealzenobia said...

Re: Today's Sepinwall - Yes to the Lanford Wilson reference!

About Jax confessing to Stahl - that was all ego. I couldn't believe it either. He told her he killed Kohn just in order to end the conversation with the upper hand. And if I had just had been in a beatdown with my stepfather, I guess I might have had ego issues, too. But one of the most important things about it was Jax' pattern of mistakes this season. Sutter methodically balanced Clay's assholery with Jax's mistakes - it hasn't been super hero vs. over-the-hill dude: Jax puts the nine fingers on Opie's Myan (idiot!!) and ends the club-wide truce. He underestimates Georgie and gets Lila in the ER. He baits Clay about Donna incessantly and pushes him to a place that is a real problem. That results in him confessing to Stahl, which serves no positive purpose whatsoever, except the momentary rush. Then he underestimates Georgie again and gets Luann killed.

Jeff said...

Zack Handlen from The Onion had a great review from last night's show. He said "Unlike other crime dramas, Sons of Anarchy has people who can be noble, people for whom family life and brotherhood aren't just ways of hiding their essential venality." I couldn't agree more. I think that's what sets this show apart. In it's own very unique and brilliant way I think this show shines a light on values that I haven't seen on TV since (and I know this sounds crazy) The Andy Griffith Show. Also Titus Welliver was great last night and if you want to see this guy, who is a brilliant at impersonating people, check out the Season 3 DVD of Deadwood and check out the extras. The final scene with Gemma last night will probably stay with me a long time, lucky me.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I saw the 90 minute special episode and I am so mad at you! You could have had Lyla take Opie's shirt off - at least! If I could, I swear, I'd start a "See Opie Naked" petition! Come On! At least give us a scene with him in nothing but his boxers! PLEASE!!!! Also, I have a comedy idea. Have Bobby, Tig, and maybe Juice or Half-Sack go to a nail salon and get pedicures up in the massage spa chairs and Clay walks into the shop. Ron Pearlman could really sell that "What the hell happened to my motorcycle club?" stuff.

SP in PHX said...

Maybe 35 min of network commercials, but with the all the local crap, etc, I'd say it was barely 50-50%. Way too much! Guess the network is going to peddle all they can when they got a winner. I think they're going to run some of us off with that much interference. Is the ratio of program:commercial time ever measured and reported?

Pauline said...

GĂ©nial, une nouvelle saison pour SOA!!
I'm relieved there's gonna be another season of SOA! I was starting to worry seeing how quick they asked for a second season...But FX would have been stupid not to renew it, given the ratings, the increasing fan base and what people say about the show.
I'm not worried about the future of the show, I guess I'm an optimistic and I think if it's been able to be that great up to this point, why would it suddenly shift to being bad...though it happened to other shows before,which totally contradicts my point. anyways, have some faith in the cast and crew, sepinwall!

Timmy74 said...

I want to thank you for the scene where Unser looks at his Shaddow Box and hat. To air that scene on the Birthday of the Marine Corps says a lot. You just went from being a great writer to a great man in my book. Thank You and Semper Fi.

April MacIntyre said...

Couldn't agree more with Alan, and I would take this well-crafted tale over Mad Men any day.

Thanks for throwing us who follow TV for a living a bone, Kurt.

Renegade said...

I absolutely love the show but last night was completely out of hand.

4 minutes of commercial break for every 7 minutes of the show is just ridiculous.
I understand the commercials pay the bills but there's a limit.

Other than that it was an awesome, awesome episode...

gthcvmpyr said...

I was an avid "Shield" fan...and am equally devoted to the SOA. The outstanding writing is perfectly complimented by the amazing cast of actors. I'm thrilled to hear there will be a 3rd season. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Another excellent use of music in the ending scenes (don't know the song). Reminded me of Forever Young bookending an episode in Season One.
Very well done.

Jamie Williams said...

I just wanted to leave a comment to say how much I enjoy your show. I have become pretty damn obsessed with this show. I was hooked from the first episode. This show really has set the bar high. the writing is above any other on T.V. right now. For example, watching last nights episode I was filled with so many emotions. I can honestly say that I "feel" for each charater. The Cast is amazing! The performances they all give are just so real. I felt like I was sitting at that table with Gemma,Jax,Tara and Clay. Gemma withholding the rape till lastnight was brilliant writing. Kurt Please continue what your doing. thank you for giving me an hour of T.V. I can truly be proud to watch... Oh and if Katey doesn't get an emmy Nom for this season the emmy people are BLIND!!!!

therealzenobia said...

I did not notice any difference in the commercials. Suck it up, people! We're probably one season away from that being the standard ratio.

Re: Anonymous' appeal to remove Opie's costume - I'd like to reiterate my support for nudity, particularly during this difficult contract negotiation season. In the post NYPD Blue era, no one on TV should assume they'll keep it covered up; and as a feminist show (?), it's incumbent on SOA to make artistic choices that reflect female fantasy as well as male.

Thank you.

Visan said...

I loved the first season! The second season has been nothing short of amazing! And it keeps getting better!

Just one suggestion for season three...one Jax Teller booty shot per episode! Please....

Liz said...

Titus Welliver was a great choice to play Jimmy 0.Only a great actor could (wring out?)as many emotions as he did from myself and countless others that tuned into last nights epi.Tommy was outstanding as usual.First time a show has ever driven me to tears.

TheRealLindaLea said...

Amazing episode. Katey has been blowing my mind all season. Tommy Flanagan rocked this episode, too. He wears anger and angst really well.

I didn't mind the commercials so much. I can get behind sponsors like Jamesons, Jack Daniels, Baileys, and Sam Adams!

I'm also all for mandatory booty shots, but can we spread the love? Chibs, Tig, Juice, Happy, Opie, etc... -- all very booty-shot worthy.

Mike L Farrier said...

Love the show so thank you for your incredible work along with the cast and crew. Could you confirm if the swag being sold at cafepress is sanctioned by yourself/the show as it doesn't look like it. http://shop.cafepress.co.uk/sons-of-anarchy?lq=1
Cheers,
Mike

Sasha White said...

Great review. Sepinwall also has a blog he posts his thoughts on called "What's Alan Watching?" I found him when googling Sons Of Anarchy quite a while ago. LOL He posts thoughts and questions about each episode each week. He's definitely a fan of yours. (as everyone should be. )

Jake said...

Don't think I can add anything that hasn't already been said, great show, great quality, great casting...

SAMCRO needs to have a few different Scooters, and get rid of those Damn Runners Jax wears. Keep them coming!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if everyone picked up on this but in regards to the homeless woman and her significance on the show, when Gemma runs into her outside of the store and gives her the money, the homeless woman clearly says, "Abel (Jax's son) will help my little boys." Gemma says, "What?" and gives her a strange look. This time the homeless woman says, "Able to help my little boys, bless you." Not sure of the importance. I also wondered if there was some kind of significance with the Bible, Abel, and the show?