I love it when a show comes together. It usually happens in the second season. The writers hack away what doesn’t work and polish what does. It happened that way with Chuck, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Parks and Recreation, The Office and The Simpsons.
And it happened with Season Two of Sons of Anarchy. Even in the first season, the show had potential. The setup was promising: The town of Charming, Calif., has long been controlled by the Sons of Anarchy, a gun-running motorcycle gang. But gang member Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnan) discovers that his dead father wanted to take the gang straight.
SOA’s patriarch, Clay Morrow (a gravelly Ron Perlman), however, believes to do so would be a betrayal.
In any Hells Angels-inspired work, you should be able to smell the leather and exhaust, feel the bugs in your teeth, the road rash scars on your back and the weight of the brain-stained tire iron in your hand. Sons of Anarchy has always nailed the grit.
Season One of Sons had the tone, but no direction. It puttered along when it needed to go full-throttle. It couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a grindhouse-style B-movie, full of over-the-top caricatures and goofy gore, or a brooding, pitch-black Shakespearean tragedy. The tonal shifts caused whiplash.
But Season Two, which begins with the gang rape of the SOA matriarch (Katey Sagal) by white supremacists, trades cheese for brutality. Sagal played the grief of a proud, strong woman with heartbreaking transparency. The stakes rose. The pace quickened. Sons became one of the best dramas on television.
It wasn’t perfect. The sassy and seductive ATF agent (Ally Walker) was a relic of Season One’s camp. Her acting, like she’s playing head investigator in Boondock Saints 3: Saints Go Marching In, stuck out painfully amid her grave surroundings.
But mostly, Sons excels at the who-do-you-root-for dilemma that cable’s antihero dramas (The Shield, Breaking Bad, The Wire) specialize in.
Where Breaking Bad and The Wire were tightly constructed downward narratives of corruption, Sons of Anarchy is messier. We don’t yet know the moral fate of our characters. Their souls are still careening down the open road, their destination unknown.
(Sons of Anarchy, FX, Tuesdays, 10 pm)
We’ve come a long way from the days when you could just throw together some talking animals and make an animated cartoon about them. Now you have to dig deeper. Food products! Office supplies! Regular Show on Cartoon Network not only stars an anthropomorphic lollipop, it features a talking gumball machine. Can a gumball machine truly understand love? Regular Show, most likely, will dare to ask these types of questions. (Cartoon Network, Mondays, 8:15 pm)
Somewhere in that deeply repressed memory of yours, you may remember a little Saturday Night Live rip-off called MAD TV. This cartoon is the second major attempt to see if the sophomoric institution known as MAD Magazine can work on television. The fact that it’s entirely animated means one thing: more Spy vs. Spy. (Cartoon Network, Mondays, 8:30 pm)
Dirty Jobs Marathon
Love reading about the intense jobs in this week’s cover section? Mike Rowe makes finding awful jobs his job. And on Sept. 6, you can spend up to 18 hours watching him do exactly that. (9 am-3 am, Sept. 6 on the Discovery Channel)