Tuned In

TV Tonight: Anarchy in the U.S.

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Ray Mickshaw/ FX

Sorry I haven’t had a chance to put together the vaguely-promised Shield Watch: besides having other things to deal with, it takes me a while to get my bearings on a new season—especially when it’s been over a year since the last one. I am intrigued by the gang war paralleling the cold war between Vic and Shane, but most of all I’m always amazed by how, even though FX still can’t go certain places that HBO can in terms of language and graphic content, the show nonetheless manages to be more raw than anything on pay cable. It’s partly the unflinching grimness and sickness of some of the cases, partly the fact that the characters, even though certain obscenities are off the menu, manage to do more (and go to skeevier places) with the language they do have available. It can’t be more explicit, but it can be more disturbing.

Tonight, FX debuts Sons of Anarchy, a similarly raw drama about a murderous biker / gun-running gang in Northern California. You could think of it as The Shield: Criminal Intent, in that while the milieu is similar (California, grisly crimes, turf/race wars among gangs), you’re seeing from the bad guys’ (well, the non-cop bad guys’) perspective.

Unfortunately, while there’s enough promise to give the show a chance to develop, in the two episodes I’ve seen the central characters aren’t nearly as compelling as those in The Shield. The premise of Sons is a kind of biker Hamlet. Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the scion of the Sons of Anarchy gang, once run by his late father but now overseen by his mom (Katey Segal) and his stepfather (Ron Perlman). Jax is beginning to disagree—as, we learn, his father once did—with the gang’s increasing brutality and greed, as over the decades it’s become less about alternative lifestyle and more about alternative revenue sources (namely, selling guns to inner-city gangs). The overarching story is the battle for Jax’s soul.

I’ve like Hunnam in the past (in Undeclared and the British Queer as Folk), but so far we don’t see enough into that soul to care about the battle; his Jax is laid-back to the point of indifference. The idea has enough horsepower that I’ll keep with it for a while, though. Maybe The Shield be succeeded by the wheeled.

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