Since the late 1990’s, television began giving American audiences shows featuring anti-heroes or shows where the protagonist has been a criminal or criminals, even brutal criminals. The prime example was HBO’s Oz, which was literally about rapists and murderers. Other cable networks started running similar shows. One of the most successful was FX’s Sons of Anarchy, which premiered in 2008. It was created by Kurt Sutter, a writer-producer on FX’s The Shield, another anti-hero series about corrupt cops, set in a sunswept and very gritty Los Angeles. Sons of Anarchy was similarly sunswept and gritty, focusing on a motorcycle club in central California. It shined a light on the underbelly of biker and leather groups in the area. It was loosely based on or inspired by the Hells Angels.
Four years after that show ended, Sutter teamed up with Elgin James (Lowriders) to create this spin-off of Sons of Anarchy. The first episode of Sons of Anarchy introduced the audience to a motorcycle club of all-white guys that would be led by Jax Teller, played by Charlie Hunnam. That episode also referenced an all-Mexican motorcycle club that was rivals or antagonists to the Sons of Anarchy. Here, Sutter decides to make this show all about that Mexican motorcycle club who call themselves the Mayans.
J. D. Pardo (East Los High and Revolution) stars as Ezekiel Reyes, aka EZ, who has the same kind of tough and rough sex appeal as Jax Teller. Pardo is also as magnetic as Hunnam. Yet, EZ and Jax don’t have a one-to-one comparison. Yes, both are from California. Both have criminal backgrounds. Both are members of motorcycle clubs in which family members are also a part. However, EZ isn’t as high on the ladder as Jax was at the start of Sons of Anarchy. Jax was a vice president. EZ is only a prospect, which is at the very bottom doing a lot of grunt work. EZ seems eager to work his way up the ladder like Jax did, but there are more differences.
Eight years ago, EZ wore a Stanford University hoodie and had a white girlfriend. Doing grunt work for the Mayans didn’t seem like it was on his mind at all. His college dreams and possible life inside a white, middle-class suburb were dashed when he was involved in a police shooting and was sentenced to prison for 20 years. Obviously, he didn’t serve his full sentence. The reason he didn’t is because the government made him a deal. EZ would go free if he worked undercover to bring down a deadly drug cartel that’s connected to the Mayans.
Clayton Cardenas (American Crime) co-stars as Angel Reyes, the older brother to EZ who is also a member of the motorcycle club but is higher up the ladder. It’s not exactly the family-run business as with the Sons of Anarchy, so Angel can’t give EZ special treatment. But it’s weird how he’s not more curious about why EZ is out of prison early. Angel doesn’t come across as a criminal for criminal’s sake. His background might also necessitate him to be in this gang, but even he realizes how horrible the cartel is, and he wants to take it down too.
Sarah Bolger (Once Upon a Time and The Tudors) also co-stars as Emily Thomas, the ex-girlfriend of EZ. She wanted to stand by EZ when he went to prison, but he pushed her away. As a result, she got married to another guy and had a baby with him. The wrinkle is that the guy she married is the head of the cartel, both in control and at odds with the Mayans.
Danny Pino (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Cold Case) also co-stars as Miguel Galindo, the head of the aforementioned cartel, the husband to Emily and father to her child. He’s the ruthless type who isn’t above torture and murder to maintain his power. He’s basically an evil drug lord who dresses in very fancy suits. A group of rebels – people who have been his victims – rob him, so he wants revenge and he has no compassion for any of them.
The battle between the cartel and the rebels is what drives the first season of this series. It sets itself up like the recent Breaking Bad on AMC or even Ozark on Netflix. We’re supposed to sympathize with these criminals by pitting them opposite even worse criminals. It’s interesting that this series comes out in the Trump era, given his controversial comments about Mexico. For this show to open with EZ on his motorcycle, riding alongside a Mexican border fence and later to have him using a tunnel to go under the border certainly sends a message. Whether or not the weight of the crimes or the true effect of what they’re doing will be felt is the key if this series will be successful or not.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.