In some ways, being the new show most likely to succeed also means being a bit predictable. Given the popularity of Kurt Sutter's Sons of Anarchy by the end of its run in 2014, one could predict that the biker drama's spin-off, Mayans M.C., would be similarly successful, at least at the outset. The FX series centers on the Latino bikers of the Mayans, a club that was both friend and foe to SAMCRO over the years, and with that connection comes a built-in audience. However, it also comes with the potential for the show to feel like a rehashing of the same beats over and over again.
Although Mayans M.C. certainly has a lot in common with the show that spawned it, from the use of excessive violence to the occasionally convoluted interconnected arcs of its many, many characters, the series has used that familiarity to great effect, bridging the worlds of Sons of Anarchy and Mayans M.C. in smart, effortless ways that steer the show away from predictability and toward something larger. By the end of its first season, Mayans M.C. wasn't a retreading of Sons of Anarchy, nor was it just a successful spin-off; the show dared to be about something more than just the outlaw attitude and culture that made Sons so popular, and that might just make it a better show than Sons of Anarchy.
Co-created by Elgin James, the series took what made Sons successful — an emotional throughline that deepened the narrative beyond the simple thrills of testosterone-drenched, adrenaline-fueled outlaw culture — and added far-reaching consequences to deepen the show's relevance and importance. The world of Sons of Anarchy was very insular. The city of Charming was small, and the drama the club found itself in sometimes took it to Stockton or Las Vegas or even on an ill-fated trip to Ireland, but at the end of the day, Sons of Anarchy was the story of a single man: Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the prince of SAMCRO. Jax's actions were rarely going to affect anyone outside of Charming. In comparison, Mayans M.C. is about a lot more than just EZ (JD Pardo), a fact that's drilled home by his status as a mere prospect at the start of the series. The successes and failures of the men and women of Mayans M.C. affect not just the club or the Galindo cartel or the rebels led by Adelita (Carla Barrata) but also potentially the people of Mexico, and in turn, the States.
The show's setting on the U.S.-Mexico border made the spin-off timely, and although Sutter and James attempted to downplay the political aspects of the show prior to its debut, the location of the action allowed the series to have more narrative ambition than its predecessor, resulting in a story that has the potential to affect a far greater number of people, including its viewers. As TV Guide's Tim Surette wrote after the conclusion of the first season, "Though Mayans M.C. is still steeped in the melodrama of Sons, the fact that it's saying something more than just being about outlaw life speaks to its audience on a more fulfilling level."
And perhaps no one is more surprised than I am by the show's ability to satisfy its viewers. I knew there were a lot of Sons of Anarchy fans who would tune in for the first season, but I was apprehensive about diving back into this world after the final two seasons of Sons proved to be a real endurance test, thanks to overly convoluted storylines and unnecessarily extended running times. Early on in Mayans' run, I struggled to get into the show; after four episodes, I didn't feel like I knew who most of the men were who populated this world, and my understanding of their motivations was even less clear because the show threw so much plot at viewers at the outset that nothing had time to breathe.
Midway through the season, though, storylines started to come together, and we got to know not just EZ and his brother, Angel (Clayton Cardenas), but also Coco (Richard Cabral) and the various club members, Adelita and the rebels, and Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino). The many different players, including Sons badass Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon), converged in surprising ways as secrets were revealed faster than anything ever happened on Sons of Anarchy. And by the time we learned that SAMCRO's enforcer, Happy (David LaBrava), was the man who killed EZ's mother eight years ago — a development that could potentially bring the two clubs to the brink of war — Mayans M.C. had expanded the world of Sons of Anarchy and allowed its characters to reach far greater heights.
And those were some large shoes to fill. The bar may have been set higher for Mayans M.C. than for the rest of the season's new shows, but the spin-off managed to exceed the expectations of even its most cynical viewers, and that's why we have full faith in its future.
Because this is such a competitive category, TV Guide wanted to take this opportunity to shout-out all the runners-up who just barely missed out on the honor of Most Likely to Succeed: Manifest, a drama that lets Josh Dallas thrive while delivering a mystery even Sherlock Holmes couldn't crack; Shrill, which finally gave Aidy Bryant the star vehicle she deserves; and Sex Education, which proved that a show about horny teens can also have a whole lot of heart.