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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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Sons of Anarchy – “Fa Guan”

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“Fa Guan”

November 3rd, 2009

When I wrote about Mad Men’s big JFK episode yesterday, I noted that one of the problems with playing with history is that it is already determined, and as such the show is left only with seeing how individual characters react to it. It introduces an element of certainty that is potentially damaging to the show’s dramatic tension, and while the characters are well-drawn enough to handle it there’s something about it that just feels off.

What’s interesting about the second season of Sons of Anarchy is that there is a similarly predetermined element to its central storyline, and for the most part it doesn’t particularly matter. One of my concerns this season has been the omniscient nature of Zobell and the League of American Nationalist, always a good two or three steps ahead of the Sons and always happening to plan (or stumble into) the ideal counterattack to further raise tensions within the club. It’s created a scenario where the Sons of Anarchy are at the whim of the League, their every move either a trap designed by the League or else a dangerous scenario only necessary because of actions the League has undertaken. If the show is about a crumbling organization trying to keep it together while dealing with the impact of unpredictable outside forces, which this season has definitely been, then it may be problematic that for us Zobell is wholly predictable: wherever SAMCRO is, he’s going to be there before they are.

However, as “Fa Guan” demonstrates, this hasn’t damaged the series so much as it has simplified the “plot” and allowed the intricacies of the various interpersonal relationships to rise to the surface. The show might be more realistic if the League weren’t quite so “on point” with their various attacks, but it would also be a lot less entertaining, and considering the show is currently one of the most entertaining shows on the air I think that this predetermination is worth an occasional raised eyebrow.

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Sons of Anarchy – “Gilead”

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“Gilead”

October 20th, 2009

When critics have copies of episodes in advance (and, as a result, I don’t have them in advance), it means two things. The first is that they all have reviews ready to post the second the episode ends, meaning that I’m roughly 24 hours behind on posting my thoughts about the episode (considering that I’m not able to watch Sons when it airs). The second, though, is that I kind of already knew what this episode was like: the critics have been talking it up for a few days, and Kurt Sutter even posted last week that the episode was one of the best the show had other done.

As such, this review won’t be particularly long (I lied, it was that good): I, like other critics, really loved this hour of television, and I’ll agree with Sutter that it’s amongst the show’s best. What makes “Gilead” so interesting is that it takes an episode featuring a lengthy homage to HBO’s Oz and a very welcome return of guest star Ally Walker, and yet ultimately delivers an episode that draws out less sensationalist event television and more powerful pre-existing emotional arcs. It manages to both relish in the situation, putting SAMCRO behind bars and playing with prison tropes ranging from the sex trade to the jailyard shivving, and turn that storyline into something meaningful and powerful considered in the long-term.

It’s the kind of short term/long term combination that SAMCRO is painfully unable to accomplish in its current state, and results in a damn fine episode.

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