by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Sons of Anarchy & r & & r & (FX, Wednesdays, 10 pm) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & e live in an era of prodigious sequels. Hollywood blockbusters get at least two, often more. Young adult novel series push double digits. Rappers write rhymes to build their brands and develop prot & eacute;g & eacute;s to expand them. When there's no sequel to connect with, the media -- even the critical community -- expends a ton of energy proclaiming this new thing to be like that old thing.
"X is the new Y."
It's a clich & eacute;. Such a clich & eacute; that we don't even recognize it as such.
It wasn't surprising, then, to hear FX's new hardboiled crime drama, Sons of Anarchy, called "the new Sopranos." Both are about crime families -- Italian on one hand, Biker on the other. Both are intended to humanize evil people and to show how close we normal people can come to evil.
It was an easy hook. The stories would write themselves.
Except Sons of Anarchy is to The Sopranos as fire is to ice. It's a difference of ethics. The Sopranos stayed interesting thanks to the tug of different moralities, different worlds. This old, insular Italian crime family has been stealing and killing for centuries with blatant disregard for America's values. Cracks form with each generation that grows up less paisan and more cracker. It leads to hardened mobsters crying on shrinks' couches. Culture clash. Great stuff.
Sons of Anarchy (with Ron Perlman and Katey Segal), though, is about thoroughly American outlaws who form a bike clique and become gun-running thugs. Their crises of conscience never represent a larger moral conflict. They grew up with a certain set of values, willfully set them aside, and have to deal with the occasional Mexican gang or OD-ing girlfriend. They're just crappy people who stay crappy.
Am I judging too harshly after only two episodes? I don't think so. Pilots are often -- nearly always -- sketchy and sloppy and go overboard with backstory at the expense of pacing, but they also (almost always) have the show's tone locked down. With one 60-minute shot at a TV deal, tone is one thing you have to commit to. It's crucial, the difference between Rocky and Raging Bull. Between a 12-episode run and oblivion.
Sons of Anarchy's tensions are thoroughly mundane. Soap opera stuff. It won't add any depth our world. It'll just give a 2D snapshot of a world most people won't care to visit.
Five seasons. Seriously. I usually get sick of shows (Six Feet Under, Battlestar Galactica and, back in the day, Family Ties) after, like, three. Most get so directionless and fall back on the old traits of beloved characters, rather than forcing those characters to change or suffer. Entourage is doing all that, too, yet still I watch. And love. (HBO, Sundays at 10 pm)
My Super Sweet 16 Presents: Exiled
I'm sure producers of this show comfort themselves at night saying taking the pampered little bitch heiresses that graced Super Sweet 16 and forcing them to rough it abroad will make the girls into better people. It won't. It'll feed their egos and provide a hell of a story to tell on South Padre Island come college. (MTV, Mondays, 10:30 pm)
Laurie Metcalf and Judge Reinhold in a show about a family that runs a payday check-cashing business? How much seedier can you get without a donkey show? But until it proves to be another pile of CW dreck, we're there. (CW, premieres Sunday, Sept. 21, at 9 pm)