Last night, the fifth season of Sons of Anarchy premiered, making this the perfect time to launch a sporadic feature exploring the best and worst parts of flawed shows. More than almost any other show, this motorcycle drama is packed with both.
- Almost all of Season 2. The show went from a campy show with a few moments of brilliance to something great. Very few shows have dealt with the issue of sexual assault, especially as expertly nuanced as Sons of Anarchy has.
- The portrayal of all sorts of pain and guilt, from nearly everybody.
- The tragic arc of compromised former police chief Wayne Unser.
- The moral struggle of Deputy David Hale.
- Katey Sagal (as club matriarch Gemma) and Ron Perlman (as the gravely, bitter former club president) give some of the best acting as two of the best characters on television. They have the weariness of years on the road and pain behind every crease.
- The casting choices of a few of the one-season characters – like Henry Rollins as a white supremacist, or Ray McKinnon as a twitchy Assistant U.S. District Attorney – were superb.
- The showrunner Kurt Sutter completely looks the motorcycle part. This is a guy who truly seems gritty, not just a clean-cut creator slipping on a fake leather jacket.
- By all accounts Sutter has genuinely dug into the culture of Motorcycle Clubs. It’s never sacrifices the pulp for authenticity, but the flavor seems drawn from a real place.
- It continues setting ratings records, for a show much better than The Walking Dead.
- ATF Agent Stahl.
- Wasting Benito Martinez — a far better Hispanic actor than Jimmy Smits — in a boring role.
- Constantly raising sticky moral questions about the race, crime, and club politics, and ducking away from them just as quickly.
- Building up the End of Clay for all of Season 4, and then wussing out at the last moment through a series of meaningless plot contrivances.
- Whatever happened in Ireland in Season 3.
- Agreeing on the end of the season too early, resulting in 10 episodes of wheel spinning.
- The 15 other motorcycle gangs, all of who are interchangeable and undeveloped, identifiable only by skin color.
- The obsession with porn and prostitution as comic relief. Never that funny, never necessary, and never insightful into those actual industries.
- The casting of Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau, from Lost) one of the most unintimidating villian performances I’ve ever seen. You can do two things with your villains: Give them a genuinely scary demeanor (the Prison Break method), or give them a kind or charming demeanor, they undercut with scary actions (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer method).
Pope goes for a scary demeanor, but it just comes up seeming like your six-year-old brother putting on an angry face as he ineffectually punches you.
- Confusing and generally unexciting action scenes.
- Does Sons of Anarchy really need more music montages than Glee? And do those montages have to be used as replacements for important for difficult-to-write scenes? And does the music have to be so terrible? And did they really replace “the word New Orleans” with “Charming Town” in their “House of the Rising Sun” montage?