Tag Archives: Kurt Sutter

2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Kurt Sutter vs. Critics, Round Infinity

Trench Warfare: Kurt Sutter vs. Critics, Round Infinity

January 4th, 2012

As a vocal critic of the third season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, I was apprehensive going into its fourth season, and found myself more or less pleased with how the season went down. By dialing down the number of storylines, and focusing more exclusively on the inner-workings of SAMCRO (with additional storylines intersecting with the club dynamic quite successfully), the strong performances rose to the surface and the “plot mechanics” largely proved quite effective even if I would agree that the finale was a major step back in that department, ending up too cute for a show that purports to being so dark. Ultimately, while it didn’t make my “Top 20” at The A.V. Club, it probably would have made a Top 25, which is more than it would have managed last year.

I didn’t have time to write about the show this fall, and I wouldn’t say I was particularly disappointed by this at the time: while the show was better than last season, it was better in ways that were not particularly surprising, and which other critics reviewing the show week-to-week were capturing well in their own reviews. Similarly, while I did have my issues with some of the plot developments, people like Alan Sepinwall, Maureen Ryan, and Zack Handlen were effectively covering the ground I would have covered, nicely capturing what proved to be a solid (if flawed) season of television that cemented the show’s future as a solid (if flawed) staple of the basic cable landscape.

However, when the season ended amidst a flurry of dismissive comments from creator Kurt Sutter regarding the critical reception of the season, I changed my mind. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to pick a fight with Sutter, who rang in 2011 by insulting me over Twitter, but rather that it felt wrong to be sitting on the sidelines while Sutter waged trench warfare on hardworking critics who were being criticized for doing their jobs (and doing them well). While I remain convinced that Sutter has a point regarding the limitations of weekly criticism with a serialized show, to suggest (despite his best efforts to suggest otherwise) that these limitations are a function of individual critics as opposed to the form made me wish that I had reviewed the series if only so I could stand alongside my fellow critics in support of critical analysis that reflects a personal, subjective approach to television.

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The Crow Flies Straight(er): Sons of Anarchy Season Four

Review: Sons of Anarchy Season Four

September 6th, 2011

I sat down to watch the first three episodes of the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy a few weeks ago, just a few days after Kurt Sutter’s decision to leave Twitter and his decision to, well, repost an entire article I had written on the subject on his personal blog.

It is not exactly a secret that I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with Sutter regarding the role of the critic, as Dave Chen’s documentation of our most notable squabble would indicate. It’s also not exactly a secret that I didn’t see eye-to-eye with Sutter on the quality of the third season, which I found quite unsatisfying. Given these two points, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of baggage going into the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy, baggage that could easily overwhelm a half-hearted return to Charming.

To be honest, though, I didn’t think much of the baggage when watching the first three episodes (which includes a 90-minute premiere tonight at 10/9c on FX). The show sidesteps many of the events from the third season, picking out the important pieces of information and building them out into more substantial storylines, and a return to a focus on the interrelation of the Sons as opposed to their external battles has reinvigorated the narrative to the point where “Kurt Sutter” didn’t feel like a character within the drama despite the off-season “war” we waged (and the effective resolution we reached in recent weeks) and despite the fact that Sutter actually plays a character on the show. It was just me and a compelling drama series, a series which is returning on a stronger footing after a season filled with missteps and an off-season filled with controversy.

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Once More Unto the Breach: Kurt Sutter vs. Journalistic Ethics

Kurt Sutter vs. Journalistic Ethics

February 11th, 2011

In choosing to occasionally cover emerging stories within the television industry, responding immediately rather than waiting a few months for the dust to settle, it’s never clear where that story will go. When I sat down to discuss the controversy swirling around Chloe Sevigny’s critical comments about Big Love’s fourth season in an interview with The A.V. Club, and the degree to which the journalist’s integrity was unfairly dragged through the mud by those involved, I had no idea that the story would still be making news ten months later. My piece about that issue is very much an artifact of the initial event, but the continued misrepresentation of the interview has given it continued relevance, which surprises (and saddens) me.

By comparison, I sort of knew that my multiple pieces on Kurt Sutter’s engagement with online communities would continue to be relevant. For better or for worse, Sutter enjoys the outlet afforded by his blog and his Twitter account, and will continue to use them in the years ahead. The facts are simple: Sutter admits to having a fairly quick temper, people on the internet will continue to criticize his show, and he’ll continue to become emotionally affected by it.

What I couldn’t have (but perhaps should have) imagined, though, was that these two particular lines would converge. Yes, through the powers of fate, another film festival interview shifted gears towards an actor’s television program, and another actor made some off-the-cuff remarks about the show which have been twisted into some sort of controversy in the news media. And because that actor happens to be Charlie Hunnam, and the show in question happens to be Sons of Anarchy, Sutter’s personality has taken center stage in yet another largely unprovoked attack on journalistic ethics.

Unless a slightly botched interview has become a more vicious threat to journalism than I previously realized.

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Rebel Without a Cause: Kurt Sutter’s War on (Some) Critics

Kurt Sutter’s War on (Some) Critics

December 30th, 2010

Earlier this year, I wrote a profile of sorts regarding the role that Kurt Sutter’s Twitter account, @sutterink, was playing in shaping Sons of Anarchy’s image within online communities, and the degree to which its polarizing nature would play into one’s experience of watching the series. When I wrote that piece, I had more or less no opinion on the issue: while I found it academically interesting, on a personal level I felt as if the Twitter account was a logical extension of the kind of renegade spirit which defines the series and Sutter’s personal approach to both storytelling and showrunning. It’s his opinion, his Twitter account, and his show – that gives him every right to say whatever he so desires, and I have no intention of vilifying his activity in this area.

However, on a personal level, my opinion has changed. I am among those who were disappointed in Sons of Anarchy’s third season, a group which includes many of the same people who were so high on the show before the ratings bump in Season Two made it into FX’s biggest hit. It is a group which includes intelligent critics, critics who elaborate on their opinions on a near-weekly basis and whose opinions are well-respected. It is also a group which includes people who may not be as well-respected, and whose opinions may not be quite as elaborate, as is the case with any or all responses to television in the internet age.

My frustration is not that Sutter refuses to admit that Season Three was a failure – that remains, of course, just my opinion – but rather that he seems intent on categorizing and labeling critical response to the season based on broad generalizations which suggest a hivemind incapable of independent, or comprehensive, thought. While there is an argument to be made that trends in online criticism contributed to the negative response to Season Three, suggesting that it is the result of bandwagons or gender determination represents a dismissal and an insult to the very kinds of people who supported the show in years past, and may now be less likely to support the show in the future.

And these suggestions may be the only thing more confounding than the narrative decisions which drove Sons of Anarchy’s third season.

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Season Finale: Sons of Anarchy – “NS”

“NS”

November 30th, 2010

Look, let’s get it out of the way: Sons of Anarchy was very far from the best show on television this fall. It was a season with a story to tell which seemed completely unwilling to tell that story, and when it finally got down to business it seemed as if everything was expedited and choppy. For a series that once delivered what I would describe as sick, twisted poetry, the third season lacked both rhyme and reason. While I perhaps understood what Kurt Sutter was going for by the time we reached the season’s penultimate episode, nothing about “June Wedding” made those previous episodes any more satisfying. In fact, the show sort of felt like it was following Stahl’s example: when you think a situation is going south, or you’re tired of playing a certain angle, you just shoot someone and call it a day.

I have some fundamental issues with the idea that Stahl could even come close to getting away with what she did in “June Wedding,” and the degree to which Stahl’s sociopathic behavior is being used to fuel the march towards the season’s conclusion, to the point where I’ve officially written off this season of television. Last week’s episode indicated to me that whatever Sutter was selling this year, it simply was not the show I want Sons of Anarchy to be, or the show that it had the potential to be coming out of its incredibly strong (and cohesive) second season.

In advance of watching “NS,” I had heard the buzz: this was a “return to form.” However, as Cory Barker wrote about earlier, the degree to which a solid finale (which “NS” arguably is) can overwrite previous struggles is fairly limited. And yet, I had no expectations that a legitimately enjoyable 90 minutes of television would actually make the season’s problems more apparent. “NS” is a smart episode of television which only confirms that the show’s third season was a wild miscalculation, an absolute failure of “Serial Narrative 101” that traveled halfway around the world and only got a lousy t-shirt with a bundle of letters hidden in it which only confirmed presumed details from the distant past.

I’m a bit busy now, though, to delve into all of the reasons why the season fell apart. I plan to come back to it at a later date, perhaps early next week, but for now I want to take “NS” as what it truly is: a launching pad to the future, and an opportunity for the series to move on with something resembling momentum.

Because on that level, “NS” is more or less a success.

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Sons of Anarchy – “Oiled”

“Oiled”

September 14th, 2010

“I’m afraid the 21st Century has come to Charming”

Nothing has really changed within SAMCRO as Sons of Anarchy enters its third season: there’s little discord amongst the group, and even though Gemma’s on the run and Abel’s a hostage of sorts in Ireland there is still the sense that the club itself is as solid as it’s ever been in the wake of last season’s tragedies.

However, the problem is that the world around them is no longer bowing down to their power: as Hale’s elder brother Jacob, trying to leverage his brother’s death into a successul mayoral run, notes in “Oiled,” the sort of old-school notion of law which the Sons held over Charming is no longer effective. We saw the wheels starting to come off the train last season, but there was a sense that it was SAMCRO’s lack of cohesion that led to their struggles. And yet, even when Gemma’s rape united Jax and Clay, and Opie got over his wife’s passing, things still unraveled in the finale, and things continued to unravel last week when mysterious gunmen killed Hale and threatened the safety of Charming.

“Oiled” is certainly a more methodical hour of television compared to last week’s premiere, as the sense of urgency which we expected to take hold during last week’s hour is replaced by a more functional effort to properly interpret the situation at hand. And yet, as the club tries to piece things together, their enemies are either committed to a more dangerous course of action or are already at work obfuscating reality in an effort to throw SAMCRO off the trail.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

July 6th, 2010

When I started handicapping the Emmy awards, I had presumed that Sons of Anarchy would be the kind of show heralded by critics but ignored by voters: the show got no attention for its first season, and FX’s Emmy hopes have centered on Damages to the point where I expected them to ignore the series. As a result, I was surprised (in a good way) to discover that FX was actually placing Sons of Anarchy at the front of its Emmy materials, a move which reflects its critical, creative, and viewership surges in its second season.

The series’ Emmy chances are still a long shot: while Damages broke into the field for FX last year, it was on the back of Glenn Close, and voters tend to value star power over critical praise or viewership numbers (Damages, for example, has been a ratings failure in its final two seasons). However, while the show may be a dark horse in Outstanding Drama Series, I’d argue it’s a legitimate contender in both Writing and Directing: Kurt Sutter submitted strong episodes which reflect the season’s strong points, and like Battlestar Galactica before it I think that voters will gravitate towards it for these creative awards where the series’ accomplishments may be better recognized.

The series’ other contender is its most deserving: Katey Sagal absolutely deserves to be part of the conversation surrounding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and FX’s decision to promote the series more heavily (and feature her pivotal episode, “Balm,” in their DVD mailer) has placed the actress in legitimate contention. Her work as the matriarch of the series’ dysfunctional family, holding a terrible secret inside so as to avoid the family tearing itself and others apart, was the anchor of the show’s second season, and she’s got a real shot at this one: not only is she truly fantastic on the show, but there’s the potential for an amends narrative here, as Saga – along with likely nominee in Comedy Ed O’Neill – was never recognized by the Academy for her work on Married…with Children, an oversight which they may want to rectify for this very different, but deserving, work. Mind you, she still has to compete with stablemate Glenn Close, and stalwarts like TNT’s Sedgwick/Hunter, and a bevy of other contenders, but if anyone is going to break into that fold outside of January Jones I believe it is Sagal.

As for the rest of the series, its chances are unfortunately slim: Charlie Hunnam and Ron Pearlman did some great work in the season but are unlikely to be recognized, while Ryan Hurst gave a stunning performance early in the season which will be summarily ignored by voters. There are also a bevy of guest stars who did some great work during the season, like Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins, and Ally Walker, who deserve to be part of these conversations but who might as well not even be on the ballot as far as voters are concerned.

Like with a show like Battlestar Galactica before it, voters will admit that the show is good, admit that it has a key lead performance or two, and that it is well crafted in terms of writing, directing and perhaps some technical awards as well. However, they’re not likely to dig a little bit deeper to find the supporting players who really sell the series’ complexity, a fact which has become sadly commonplace for the Emmys. While I understand that there are a lot of shows on television, and that the Supporting categories are particularly challenging in terms of the sheer volume of strong peformances, the fact remains that some of the best work on television never even enters into the conversation for various Emmys. Thankfully, with FX’s support, the series and Sagal have captured the Academy’s ear, so let’s hope that they’re paying attention.

Contender in:

  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Charlie Hunnam)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Ryan Hurst, Ron Pearlman, Kim Coates)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Maggie Siff, Ally Walker)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins)

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