Saturday, September 11, 2010


The original title for this post was:
but in the spirit of trying to improve my "foul-mouth, hotheaded, bombastic" reputation, I changed it.  It feels good to grow. 

In case you don't know this already, I am a very sensitive man.  My big feelings get hurt very easily.  I cry a lot.  I internalize.  I react.  I never hit humans or pets, but I often take out walls, doors and the occasional window.  Windows are bad.  I don't recommend putting your fist through one unless you have six hours to kill at the ER.  I'm currently looking at swollen bloody knuckles as I peck at my Macbook.  I found out my sound man bailed before the season finished yesterday and had a very big reaction.  There's a hole in the clubhouse set wall. 

I preface this blog with that insight to explain why I chose NOT to read reviews this season.  When I'm working 70 and 80 hour weeks, under-nourished, over-tired, and those opinions start rolling in, it's very difficult for me to detach.  In that state-of-mind, I tend to puff myself up with every positive comment and second guess myself with every negative one.  It's unhealthy for any creative, especially for a guy like me.

I managed to duck all reviews for almost two weeks.  It was incredibly liberating.  I highly suggest it to my fellow showrunners.  Then FX sent me the positive press excerpts (all the great quotes from critics that go on ads, etc).  Of course I read them.  Completely out of context, SOA was the greatest piece of dramatic literature ever conceived, acted and produced.  We were TV gods.  And of course, it was all bullshit.  Then, two days ago, literally in the course of a few hours, several people (in the spirit of commiseration, I'm sure) felt compelled to share the highlights of the negative reviews.  Some in conversation, some in emails.  I should've walked away and deleted, but I couldn't.  I guess on some unconscious level I needed the yang to keep me in check.  Again, it was all bullshit.

I'm not delusional about the reach of Sons; this is a very specific show about a very specific section of our culture.  I completely understand that it is not for everyone.  I shared about the insight I got from my lunch with Brian Lowry last year.  I came away from that meeting with the realization that a critic's review is ultimately about that individual's taste.  No matter how good or bad something is conceived and produced, the decision about its worth is always decided in the moment, by the watcher. That is not bullshit.  Beauty and every other opinion, is truly in the eye of the beholder.

In the past, I've read some scathing reviews about Sons that were thoughtful, well-constructed and very accurate... in the mind of that watcher.  Although they can be difficult to read, I appreciate and respect folks who put the time and energy into their negative analysis.  That's what a good critic does.  Critical analysis.  That is their art-form, that is their craft.  But of course, not all TV reviewers exhibit a mastery of their craft.  In fact, most wouldn't know good critical analysis if it sliced open their heads and shit a pile of knowledge where their brains should be.  The blogosphere is full of angry wannabes who couldn't make the cut as a real writer or journalist.  In my limited exposure, I'd say there are probably ten good TV critics working today.  I won't say who they are or aren't (my balls aren't that big).  The inspiration for this post came from several of the bad reviews I read the other day.  I was truly stunned by how ignorant and simple they were.  Unfortunately one of those critics writes for a nationwide newspaper.  His column was like reading the text feed of a fourteen-year-old high school girl.  All the piece needed was a handful of emoticons and like, totally, OMG!  

There is very little gray area with Sons.  It's a love it or hate it kind of show (not unlike its creator).  I know this is easy to say, but bear with me -- I believe the folks who like Sons of Anarchy, truly understand it conceptually.  Those who don't like it, simply can't (or can't be bothered) to wrap their brains around what we are trying to do.  By example, I have friends who despise Madmen.  They think it's a pretentious, overly-acted, slow, self-indulgent study of characters no one gives a shit about.  They compare it to my show.  They're idiots.  They can't see the point of Madmen and the vision that Matt Wiener and his writers are trying to communicate.  They are viewing apples through an orange lens.  You can't show up and watch True Blood with the same criteria you'd show up to watch The Shield.  Style, theme, pace, rhythm, all those things are never arbitrary in good shows.  To judge all shows by the same set of expectations is ridiculous.  Right now, Madmen and True Blood are my favorite dramas.  I watch them for completely different reasons.  I need a clear head and energy to watch Don Draper.  I know Matt is going to make me think beyond the screen.  True Blood on the other hand, is pure campy delight.  Sookie and crew will shock, titillate and entertain the fuck out of me.  I never leave that show with residual interrogatories.  

It's one thing if you're the audience.  If you don't like something, you simply turn the channel, but if you're a critic, don't you get paid for thoughtful analysis?  Aren't you supposed to roll up your sleeves and try to understand the material in the context of the world in which it is meant to live?  To throw all shows into a big bucket-o-tube is just fucking lazy.  Look, I don't mind getting fucked in the ass as long as the thing penetrating me takes a little bit of time to get to know the ins and outs of my crack (okay, that analogy even made me shiver).

So here's my memo to the unenlightened penetrators.  And again, I'm not disagreeing with the notion that Sons doesn't deserve a bad review.  It probably deserves plenty.  I am not saying the show is any better or worse than anything else on television, this is just a little tidbit for you to digest as you sit down to your keyboards with malice in your heart and a deadline to meet -- 

Sons of Anarchy is not The Shield, it's not the Sopranos, it certainly is not Madmen.  If I had to compare it to any other contemporary drama, I'd say it's most like Battlestar Galactica (again, not saying it is as good as Ron Moore's show, just using it as a comparison).  SOA, like BSG, is bigger than life.  It's steeped in a rich, thematic, costumed mythology, that can barley be contained in its naturalistic setting.  It is pulp, it is melodrama.  Forgive the pretentious Shakespearean nod, but it is a family tragedy in the spirit of Hamlet and King Lear.  It's Leone, not Renoir.  Although the characters and relationships are all very real, the circumstances are epic.  And I do my best to nail down those players into a very detailed, organic world so the drama can play out in a relatable way.

As a writer, I've always been fascinated with bending genre, pushing it beyond it's limits.  That's what I try to do on Sons.  I promise our viewers that I will not be influenced by the opinions of others.  I will continue to pursue my vision for this show.  I will take risks.  I will challenge your capacity for violence, tragedy and the absurd.  And hopefully, on occasion, I'll make you giggle like a fourteen-year-old teenage girl.