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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

CRITICS LAMENT...WHAT IS SONS OF ANARCHY?


It seems that SOA continues to delight and frustrate critics/reviewers/bloggers/guys-that-haven't-been-laid-since-911.  As you can imagine, that fact also delights and frustrates me.  Time after time, reviewers will complain that Sons always flirts with greatness, yet never achieves it.  It lays the track to perfection, but always derails.  Perhaps.  In some ways, I guess it parallels it's creator.  I'm a half-smart guy with a flare for the absurd, but I'm more than a few runways short of brilliant.  But, self-deprecation aside, I think the bigger issue is a lack of understanding of what the show really is.  And that isn't to say that critics are stupid.  Some are.  Most aren't.  But a lot of critics don't seem to understand what I'm trying to do season after season.  It's like going to see a Summer blockbuster movie and being disappointed because it's not as complex as the Godfather.  

Some critics get it.  Ken Tucker, Matt Zoller Seitz revel in the giddy truth.  Sepinwall and others continue to bang their heads against a wall, applying a level of analysis that is best reserved for a David Simon show.  The Wire, we ain't, nor do we aspire to be.  For the record, SOA is an adrenalized soap opera, it's bloody pulp fiction with highly complex characters.  Often, I think the depth of the characters, the emotionality of the writing and the amazing performances is what confuses critics.  Those qualities put the show on par with other great dramas.  But then I'll go and cut the balls off a clown or turn a plot point absurdly upside down and I will most certainly blow something the fuck up.  It's those things that drive critics crazy.  Why can't I just stay the course.  Be what they want me to be -- measured and predictable.

So why don't I do that?  Why lean so heavily on the pulp?  Maybe this backstory will shed some light: When John Landgraf wanted to move ahead with SOA, he went to his then boss, Peter Chernin, and told him he was going to greenlight the show.  Chernin told him it was a mistake.  No one would watch a show about a bunch of dirtbag bikers.  He thought it was a nasty, unpleasant world.  But Landgraf knew the operatic Hamlet approach of my pitch might be able to avoid the ugly, meth-reality and deliver the thematic attractiveness of the subculture.  Yes, the MC world can be a dark, brutal place.  It doesn't have the glamor of the Mafia or the urban sway of street gangs.  Chernin was right, a straight up drama, no matter how well done, wouldn't have lasted more than a season.  I knew instinctively, as did John Landgraf, that dark humor and pulp operatic storytelling would be the best way to open up this world to viewers.  That to balance the danger and brutality of the world, the show needed to be entertaining and, dare I say, fun.  The truth is, I have a very healthy ego.  I have no desire to run a show that only a few hundred thousand people watch.  I'll go do theatre if I want an audience that size.  My challenge as a showrunner, season after season, is to balance art and commerce.  How do I keep the show rich, complex and authentic and yet entertain the fuck out of people?  It sounds easy, but it's not.  Trust me, it would be much easier to write a straight ahead drama to please the critics.  You guys are easy.  But I'm not writing the show to convince people how brilliant I am.  I'm writing it to excite, thrill and engage an audience.  And I can only hope that my talent as an artist and producer shine through.

Clearly, sometimes it doesn't.  As I look at the WGA Award nominees this morning, I realize the thing that frustrates critics is probably the same thing that keeps us an arms-length away from awards.  I'd confidently put the quality of our writing, acting and directing up against any other show.  But the pulp, entertaining nature of Sons will always keep us a few rungs down the ladder from the obvious choices.  Or maybe we just suck and I'm delusional.  That's very possible.  

Anyway, I'll keep writing the show the way I always have and hopefully the audience will continue to show up.  And the critics will lament how imperfect and frustrating the show is to watch and yet they'll continue to watch it and write about it, week after week, after week, after week... it's almost as if they're being entertained.

I was going to tag this entry by calling them all cunts, but maybe that's a little harsh. 

Half-cunts.