It's no secret that HBO and Showtime have set the bar sky high and dominate TV Land with an iron fist thanks to their arsenal of critically-acclaimed original programming, but since the bombastic debut of 'The Shield,' followed by a steady stream of intense and edgy shows like 'Nip/Tuck,' 'Rescue Me,' and 'Damages,' it's fair to say cable television's FX has clearly established a secure foothold in the same sandbox as the big boys.
In late 2008, just as crooked cop Vic Mackey wound down to retire his shield forever, FX had some pretty big shoes to fill on its own network (and no, I'm not poking fun at Michael Chiklis' feet). Enter the 'Sons of Anarchy' -- who much like the heroes of the old west poetically rode their steel horses into town to save the day. Except unlike Vic and his strike team, this crew has no need for stinking badges.
The series focuses on the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO or Sam Crow for short) -- the charter chapter of a nationwide biker gang based in the fictional town of Charming, California. Club President Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and his wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) -- the widow of the founding father of the association, run a legitimate automotive shop and are passionate about keeping their quaint little town just like its namesake -- charming. Since big businesses and rival gangs are the last things Sam Crow wants treading all over their beloved territory, they've set up an illegal gun-running ring to fuel their organization and feed the pockets of greedy officials in order to maintain their position of dominance.
The tides begin to change, however, when the club's second-in-command, Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) who is Gemma's son, starts having second thoughts about the dark path his brotherhood has taken. Right around the same time as the premature birth of his own son, Jax discovers an old manuscript written by his father and learns the club was never intended to be the epicenter of organized crime in Charming. Determined to fulfill his father's dreams, Jax gently makes an attempt to steer his outlaw brethren in the right direction, but with the feelers of his very perceptive mother picking up on his plans, it seems the deadly gangbangers, relentless deputy chief, and swarm of ATF agents circling around the club may be the least of Jax's concerns.
On the back of the 'Sons of Anarchy' Blu-ray case there's a quote from The New York Post calling the series "'The Sopranos' for the new century" and I have to say that's a dead-on summary right there. Series creator Kurt Sutter (writer/producer of 'The Shield') uses the same proven formula -- centering on a fraternity of powerful men embroiled in nefarious deeds, but beneath Sam Crow's leather and tattoos they're still human in their hearts. Family is of the utmost importance, which misguidedly turns out to be the club itself for most of them, and the intricate storylines expose the great lengths they will go to in order to protect and take care of their own.
'Sons of Anarchy' also benefits from a strong, uniformed cast that has outstanding synergy together. The anchor of the series is the Teller-Morrow nuclear trinity -- and they slide into their roles exceptionally well. As the young rebel on the road to righteousness, Hunnam is highly charismatic yet at the same time still manages to display his character's naivete perfectly. I also had no idea that he's British until I finished the season and started in on the supplements. I may have been a bit rough on Perlman in my review for 'Mutant Chronicles' where I said I thought he was miscast in that film, but man what a difference it makes when the right actor is chosen for the right job. When casting the role of Clay, Perlman was Sutter's number one choice -- and with his look, presence, and comedic timing he totally owns it. Last and certainly not least is Katey Sagal, and according to the bonus materials Sutter tailor-made the part specifically for her alone. Sagal's metamorphosis from Peggy Bundy into the vicious Gemma is bewitching. Equal parts loving mother and master manipulator -- she's the puppet master pulling the strings of the entire organization and the most unpredictable persona on the show.
Just as important is the wide-range of supporting players, and each and every one of them helps reinforce the backbone of the show. While the cops look like cops and the bikers look like bikers, they're far from cookie-cutter clichés. Everyone is flawed in some way which makes them interesting, and there's much more to them all than what we see on the surface. Even truly despicable characters like SAMCRO's sergeant-at-arms/sociopath extraordinaire Alex 'Tig' Trager (Kim Coates -- who has to be one of my favorite recognize-the-face-but-not-the-name actors by the way) and the seething white supremacist leader of the Nordics Ernest Darby (Mitch Pileggi of 'The X-Files') have likable qualities and tie everything together nicely.
Hailed by many as the best new show of 2008, 'Sons of Anarchy' is an electric series with an intriguing premise, stellar cast, and slick writing bursting at the seams with chills, thrills, and plenty of kills. Each episode is more engaging than the last, ramping up steadily towards the season's compelling climax. As soon as it concluded I immediately programmed my DVR for the upcoming season -- so here's hoping the next batch of episodes can keep up this unrelenting pace.
'Sons of Anarchy: Season One' contains all thirteen rip-roaring episodes of its debut year: 'Pilot,' 'Seeds,' 'Fun Town,' 'Patch Over,' 'Giving Back,' 'AK-51,' 'Old Bones,' 'The Pull,' 'Hell Followed,' 'Better Half,' 'Capybara,' 'The Sleep of Babies,' and 'The Revelator.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox presents the first season of 'Sons of Anarchy' on three BD-50 Blu-ray discs inside a standard blue flipper case. There are forced trailers for '24,' 'Lie to Me,' and 'The Marine II' on the first disc and one for 'Dollhouse: Season One' on the last which is annoying, however they can be easily bypassed using the skip option on the remote. The discs themselves are reported to be region-free and therefore should play in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Oddly, my copy of the Blu-ray also came with a full size cardboard version of the cover stuck to the front of the plastic wrap, with a small sticker on top of that promoting the upcoming new season in September. Now I'm not one of those "green" fanatics by any means, but this really is a blatant waste of paper -- especially since the cardboard cutout is exactly the same as what's on the actual case. Wouldn't it have been more logical (not to mention simpler) to just place the sticker directly onto the shrinkwrap? Maybe Fox could use their heads by eliminating this unnecessary step next time and save a few trees in the process.
'Sons of Anarchy' is filmed in high-definition and aside from a few minor issues that pop up every now and then, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode is truly a sight to behold.
Colors are bold, vivid, and paint a very striking picture. The level of detail is outstanding -- from the ridge patterns of fine leather jackets, the strands of hair in Opie's beard, to even the individual blades of grass in fields and front lawns -- it's all fantastic and extremely well-rendered. Flesh tones are natural and reveal every pore and blemish on the skin with clarity, and while there are a few cases where some of the women appear to have a slightly pinkish hue, I believe this is a result of their actual look at the time rather than a flaw in the transfer. Depth is also exceptional with one of the most incredible three-dimensional illusions I've seen yet.
That said, the encode does have a few problems. Crushing seems to occur here and there, and occasionally the picture has some mild halos. I encountered a brief bout of motion judder at the beginning of the episode 'Fun House' which lasted for about five seconds, and if I'm not mistaken a hot pixel shows up in the upper right quadrant of the screen periodically, too. Finally, there is some digital noise on the image likely from compression that becomes hazier in the darker scenes. Still, the spectacular depth and detail completely overshadow any of these eyesores.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Sons of Anarchy: Season One' comes equipped with an impressive lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack as well.
All of the dialogue comes through crisply and is balanced properly with the rest of the mix. The bluesy and hard-driving rock music makes a lasting impression (especially in 'The Revelator'). The .LFE channel rumbles with the roar of Harleys, and there are excellent panning effects when a cluster of bikes roll from one side of the screen to the other. The rear channels are highly active and even the discreet effects like the bells and whistles of an ice cream truck patrolling the suburbs and the background chatter at the carnival are well done. With all the guns floating around in the series it's pretty much a given that the firepower sounds awesome, too. Coupled with the solid video presentation, 'Sons of Anarchy' delivers on the technical front.
The discs also include a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack as well as optional English, French, Spanish subtitles.
All of the supplements included here are the same ones found on the standard DVD release. The only difference is that some of the features on this Blu-ray set are presented in HD. Aside from the first two commentaries, everything is located on the third disc.
'Pilot' (Disc 1) – The premiere episode features a commentary with Sutter and the series' three main stars: Charlie "Jax" Hunnam, Ron "Clay" Perlman, and Katey "Gemma" Sagal.
'The Pull' (Disc 2) – The second track is with Sutter, director Guy Ferland, and stars Charlie Hunnam and Maggie "Tara" Siff.
'Revelator' (Disc 3) – Lastly we have a commentary for the season finale with Sutter and pretty much the entire SoA Redwood Original charter including: Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Kim "Tig" Coates, Mark "Bobby Elvis" Boone Junior, Theo "Juice" Rossi, Ryan "Opie" Hurst, William "Piney" Lucking, Johnny "Half-Sack" Lewis, and Tommy "Chibs" Flanagan. This must be a record number of commentators for a single session and is worth checking out just for the novelty factor alone.
As I just finished gorging myself on a thirteen-episode 'Sons of Anarchy' binge that left me salivating mercilessly for season two, FX has proven once again they are a tour-de-force with another surefire hit on their hands. The show's unique premise, clever style, and fantastic cast come together fittingly and provide the ingredients for an energized yet thought-provoking experience. This 3-disc Blu-ray set looks and sounds as spiffy as a brand-new Harley, and aside from the cheesy gag reel, the remaining supplements are tight and enjoyable. If you're a fan of edgy dramas and 'The Sopranos' and/or 'The Shield' in particular, give 'Sons of Anarchy: Season One' a spin in your Blu-ray player -- you won't be disappointed.