Today’s Wednesday Watch will focus on a snippet (ok maybe a bit more than a snippet) of FX’s Sons of Anarchy (SOA), a show the Dude really wanted to like but abandoned in the middle of the final season (to be honest, it should have happened much earlier). After the SOA analysis, the post will then shift to a new show with high hopes that is thus far exceeding expectations, HBO’s Silicon Valley.
First: The bad. Sons of Anarchy (various seasons) are part of the holdings of approximately 5 or 6 Nebraska public libraries, depending on the season. If your library is considering it, the Dude recommends that you put your money toward something else gangster-related (such as the Sopranos or the Wire), and spend the rest on Silicon Valley (see below). Yes, SOA does have some high points, generally during the first two seasons, and often centered on the witty one liners coming from Katey Sagal (Gemma) or Ron Perlman (Clay). The acting on the show is solid; however the low point is the unravelling of the show’s writing over time into the abyss of absurdity. SOA creator and writer Kurt Sutter has a response to the Dude’s criticism, namely that all the other non-haters “get it”, and we simply don’t. Well, that may be the case, but our disappointment comes from the fact that we believe the show could have been much better, if the unbelievable, irrational parts were sufficiently cleaned up. And it had potential. Without giving away too much, let’s dive in a bit as to why SOA misses the mark. The Dude started watching the show at the urging of various individuals, including some motorcycle aficionados. Now for the record, the Dude isn’t particularly interested in cycles (except for the human powered kind), but certainly has nothing against them. Not quite mid-way through the final season, the Dude had enough, and didn’t even have the desire to see how the show ended. Yes, it was that disappointing. Here are the reasons why.
Number one: The overuse of the musical montage. Works occasionally, but too much of even a good thing is well, a bad thing. Some of the music comes across as just plain tacky (e.g. changing the lyrics in “House of the Rising Sun” from “New Orleans” to “Charming Town” – the fictional town where SOA takes place) and at other times it’s just plain clichéd. As the series goes on, the musical montage gets more and more used and thus more and more annoying.
Number two: The prison scenes started out just OK, but became completely unbelievable over time. Well, it should be noted that they held a period of believability on a sensationalized, Hollywood version of what occurs behind bars. Even if we accept the fact that some of this stuff is a bit overblown, what writer Kurt Sutter’s character (Otto Delaney) is able to accomplish in prison is pretty comical when you think about it. All of it could never happen that way. The difficult part to swallow is that Sutter seems to have no problem serving it up on a platter with the manner of Anthony Hopkins in the Remains of the Day. The truth of the matter is that for most people who are either in prison or work there it is a mundane, repetitive, smelly, depressing, argumentative, limiting environment with small amounts of possessions and privacy that zaps one’s daily energy (inmates and staff). Admittedly, it is in fact an environment charged with violence, testosterone, manipulation, and sexuality, but to a much lesser degree than portrayed by Sutter.
Number three: The level of trust demonstrated by certain rival gang members that ultimately leads to their murder is off base. Some of these characters are hyped up as “major playas”, yet when they have a sit down with another gang and they roll in with only 2 or 3 of their crew and when they sometimes turn their backs on potential rivals, it ultimately leads to their predictable demise. It happens more than once, and it seems that guys of this caliber (if you believe the hype from the accompanying dialogue) would roll in on 3-4 tinted window Escalades or Suburbans, after setting up a few guys on the perimeter ahead of time, and toting no less than a few machine guns. And never, ever, turn their backs on anyone or exhibit any degree of trust. Furthermore, some of the alliances formed among the various thugs (under the circumstances) seem a bit perplexing or preposterous.
Number four: The kill count. Basically, the crew consists of about 8-9 guys, give or take throughout the series. True, the club has numerous other “charters” in different towns or cities, but the core group, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original – the main charter) is generally around or less than 10 guys. The kill count for just the members over the 7 seasons is a whopping 144 (see chart). By comparison, the total deaths (including those not directly caused by Tony’s crew) in the Sopranos was 92. Some of these SOA kills are of the persuasion that they would most likely draw significant attention from not just local but national law enforcement.
Number five: The continuity errors. This is a minor complaint, but part of a larger criticism related to editing as a whole. Every show has these types of errors and they sometimes are noticeable, sometimes not. On SOA, they seemed to be noticeable and distracting, and for a show of this caliber, it was unexpected. These include blood and tattoos that either disappear or change places from scene to scene, cars that change make and model from scene to scene, actors that have or wear items then don’t have them, etc. It’s a minor complaint, but a complaint nonetheless. Details matter.
Now on to Silicon Valley. According to WorldCat, season 1 is held by just 2 Nebraska public libraries. The show follows main character Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch) and his friends or colleagues (however you might see it) who all live together under one roof in a startup incubator in or near Palo Alto. Erlich Bachmann (played brilliantly by TJ Miller, and adequately filling the no-nonsense sharp witted gap left by the departure of Roger Sterling) lets Richard and his friends stay in his house rent free in exchange for a 10% stake in the projects they invent while living in the incubator. Richard develops a powerful search algorithm (Pied Piper) and the show follows the path from Pied Piper’s inception to startup, as well as the rest of the Silicon Valley world. Now, before someone mentions that there is a certain degree of unbelievability in Silicon Valley (see SOA criticism above), the difference is that Silicon Valley isn’t pretending to pass everything off this way (as SOA is with a straight face).
The show’s creator, Mike Judge (Beavis and butt-head, Office Space, King of the Hill) has previously worked at a Silicon Valley startup, and does a pretty good job of satirizing the culture. Although some, such as Elon Musk, are not quite as amused. Now for the record, the Dude is a Musk (and Tesla and Solar City) fan, although his frequently quoted response to Silicon Valley actually does more to prove that the HBO series hits, rather than misses the mark. Musk is quoted as saying:
“I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley. If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it. You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn’t even get … close to what’s in Silicon Valley. The show didn’t have any of that.” Judge didn’t bite when he responded to Musk’s comment, merely stating that: “I mean, he’s Elon Musk and he knows more about the tech world than I do, so I would never argue with that. But we’re doing a comedy. This isn’t a documentary.” In a way, Musk’s comment seems self-satirizing (read it again a few times and it will become more apparent). TJ Miller also had an apt response: “Yeah, but, and I’m not gonna name names, but if the billionaire power players don’t get the joke, it’s because they’re not comfortable being satirized, … And they don’t remember that to be a target of humor is an honor — you have to be venerated to be satirized. Like, I’m sorry, but you could tell everything was true. You guys do have bike meetings …”
For the record, perhaps Judge will think of a way to work Musk’s thoughts into a future episode, and I could go on about Burning Man and Silicon Valley, but it would be hard to beat this Burning Man spoof (complete with a great Petyr Baelish imitation). Shaka.