A depressed prince, the heir apparent, returns to his home to find his widowed mother has taken up with his morally questionable "uncle." Haunted by the ghosts of his past, the prince is unable to make a decision regarding his fate and must ultimately die to escape his tortured existence – it's the storyline of one of the greatest TV dramas of the 2000s: Sons of Anarchy (S.O.A.). It's also the plot of Shakespeare's masterpiece Hamlet, of course. The centuries-old narrative accurately describes FX's Sons of Anarchy, and that's just what creator Kurt Sutter intended.
There are no new plot lines, according to many literary theorists, just recycled and reinvigorated versions of the same basic story. From Greek mythology through Shakespeare's canon and beyond, the tortured, fatherless prince is a tale as old as time.
Perhaps this is why S.O.A. resonates with audiences; it's part of the reason why Sons of Anarchy was great. On the surface, a darkly violent motorcycle gang runs guns, drugs, and sex workers. Underneath, there's a critically important exploration of white privilege, racism, and sexism in the package of a neo-American Western. The reasons Sons of Anarchy is super smart abound; you just have to dig a little beneath its rough-and-tumble exterior to find them.
Sutter Doesn't Give AF What The Critics Think Of His ShowPhoto: 20 Century Television
That's right. Sutter cares about you, the audience, and that is who he writes for. In fact, each year when the Emmys snubbed the FX hit, Sutter would take to Twitter, according to Rolling Stone, devoting a few delicately worded tweets to telling the Academy how he really feels about awards:
"The worst part of not getting any Emmy nods is all the wasted blowjobs I gave at the academy picnic. My breath still smells like sour ammonia. F*ck Glee. Hate those annoying, 'please accept me for who I am' singing brats. Best part of not getting an Emmy nod? Now I don't have to pretend I give a shit about the profiteering douche-bag academy."
S.O.A Didn't Rely On A Headliner (At First)Photo: 20th Century Television
House of Cards relied on Kevin Spacey; Homeland needed Claire Danes; and where would True Detective be without Harrelson and McConaughey?
Sutter proved himself writing for shows such as The Shield and The West Wing, so he certainly could have demanded a household name for his "Hamlet on Motorbikes" show idea. Sure, his own wife, Katey Segal of Married With Children fame, plays the incomparable Gemma, and then there is Clay (Ron Perlman), who audiences know from Hellboy, but otherwise you wouldn't really recognize any of the main crew – at the beginning of the series, that is. This could be because Sutter didn't need a name to sell his show. The fabulous writing and the superb casting were more than enough. Actor Charlie Hunnam's meteoric rise to sex symbol fame came while he was riding his Harley through the streets of Charming.
It Dominated At The Peak Of Reality TVPhoto: 20th Century Television
Premiering in 2008, this American crime drama hit television when reality TV was at its peak. Long before House of Cards and Game of Thrones tore us away from the mind-numbing drivel of The Bachelor and Big Brother, we waited week to week with growing anticipation to see what would become of Jax Teller and his band of killers.
Why did we reject our beloved reality TV for a show about a murderous motorcycle gang? Because, its characters, so well developed and so well written, were hyperbolic reflections of ourselves, and we knew it.
S.O.A. Engages The Classism, Racism, And Sexism Of Contemporary American LifePhoto: 20th Century Television
While viewers are enjoying the shocking carnage and overt sexuality of Sons, they are ultimately being exposed to a modern visual essay on class, gender, and race in America. Sure, it doesn't exactly look like Masterpiece Theater, but S.O.A calls out the classism, sexism and racism in modern American culture, and Sutter makes no apologies for it.
Much of the plot is driven by the tenuous – and often faulty – links, compromises, and treatises that different groups make across the lines of race, class, and gender. SAMCRO member Juice Ortiz has a storyline that plays out many of these tensions. In Season 5 of the show, it is revealed that Juice's father was a Black man, and, because SAMCRO is an unspoken whites only group, law enforcement is able to enlist Juice as a rat – by threatening to reveal his racial history. This is an incredibly uncomfortable storyline as an audience member. Will Jax Teller really destroy someone for having a Black father? Is SAMCRO really this un-evolved? Though his history is eventually revealed, and Juice is allowed to stay in the club, Sutter makes the audience inhabit this incredibly realistic discomfort for nearly an entire season. After all, Jax only buries his history in exchange for Juice's help in framing Clay Morrow.