Did you like Sons of Anarchy? If so, then you'll probably like Mayans M.C., the sequel to the FX biker drama that still ranks as its most-watched program ever. That may sound like too much of a simple if/then recommendation situation, but the parallels between the two shows are striking, if not entirely intentional to bring back some of that beefy audience that's eluded FX despite the network airing some of television's best programs (why didn't you watch The Americans, hmm?). But hey, if it worked once before, it can work again, right? Sort of!
Gone are the sweaty, hairy white boys of SAMCRO and in are the sweaty, hairy Latinos of Mayans M.C., the motorcycle club that acted as friend and foe of SAMCRO in Sons of Anarchy depending on which way the wind blew at the time. Your hero is EZ Reyes (Revolution's JD Pardo), a young prospect in the club earning the trust of the higher-ups so he can be fully patched in. As an entry point, he's different from Sons' Jax (Charlie Hunnam) in that he's very low rung to start off -- Jax began as vice president before becoming president later -- but like Jax, EZ's still separated from the rest on account of his smarts (or his club mates' lack thereof), which other Mayans members will make sure you know by repeating it over and over again.
[There's also no point in going over the other characters in this review, or we'd be here all day. Any questions you have about who is who can easily be answered by our Mayans M.C. character guide, which breaks everyone down by their Sons of Anarchy counterparts.]
From there, you're looking pretty much at Sons of Anarchy 2.0, but with a slew of new bikers, low lives, and powerful crime lords intertwined in one of television's stickiest webs. One thing I'm not embarrassed to admit is that middle and later seasons of Sons of Anarchy whooshed right over my head under the excess of convoluted plot and intricate character interactions, and after the first two episodes it already feels like Mayans M.C. is heading in that direction. Example? There are the good guys (the Mayans) who have a complicated relationship with the bad guys (a cartel), obviously. Plus, there's a wild card third faction not to mention rival gangs that will be working with other groups or on their own. But within the factions there are more factions, and at one point there's some faction-ception going on with a faction within a faction within a faction. And that's on top of the dozens of characters quickly catapulted in your direction with little to no handholding to introduce them to you. This all happens in the first two hours, folks, and it's a bear to wrap your head around.
There's a certain danger to getting into what ultimately led to Sons of Anarchy's downfall so quickly. When Sons started, it made a huge splash with its outlaw attitude and showed a culture that hadn't really been seen on television before. That made it worth watching on its own. But what made it better than just a show about bikers were its characters and the way it rewrote Hamlet for this renegade microcosm. As the show progressed, the dealings with rival gangs, new gangs, law enforcement and within the club itself became knotted in later seasons as plots became so massive and complicated that it was damn near impossible to stay on top of what was going on. It seemed that Sutter was trying to write the equivalent of a mechanical bull, bucking about wildly by adding more and more until everyone fell off from fatigue or disorientation. Mayans unfortunately shows more in common with Sons of Anarchy's later seasons than its first.
All this comes at the expense of character -- which admittedly still has time to develop -- and one of Sons of Anarchy's greatest assets: the brotherly bond within the club. There are more individual motives going on within the Mayans in the first two episodes than SAMCRO experienced in its early years, which splits the club up immediately and softens the impact it could have had if we were to experience the treachery first hand after being entrenched in the family vibe of the club first. SAMCRO was tight. The Mayans feel more on the verge of civil war, which is like Season 4 story. Of course, if we learned anything from creator Kurt Sutter's history, these early bombshells will drag on for as long as they can while other stories move in to distract us from what we were really interested in. (Remember how long we had to wait for Jax and Clay to explode? And then it happened and *poof* it was over?)
That said, the opposite and totally understandable point of view is that the world of Sons of Anarchy that Mayans M.C. lives in is entirely unique to television and watching some dude get his arm chopped off is still fun to watch (the violence has been turned up from Sons it would seem). There's no denying that Sutter and Mayans M.C. co-creator Elgin James have these communities down pat, and though most of the show is just more Sons of Anarchy, the increased Latino presence and the show's change in location (from NorCal to SoCal, near the Mexican border) gives it a better and more exotic flavor than what Sons had (no need to go to Ireland this time, thankfully).
Mayans M.C. also exists in more of a hyper-reality than the grounded Sons did. The main villain is the head of the Galindo cartel (Danny Pino), and his front is as a rich, asshole businessman. That gives Mayans M.C. a regular look at the good life that Sons and all of its grubbiness never had. Also lifting Mayans M.C.'s feet off the ground is the fact that EZ straight-up has a superpower. Sort of. He has photographic memory, which comes in handy when details are needed and for the frequent flashbacks, but I'm cautious about how this gift will be used in the show. It's a potential loophole in storytelling that can be abused and lead to moments of disbelief from the audience. We'll have to see how it plays out.
You'll likely need EZ's photographic memory to follow everything that's going on in the show, because it's a lot to handle. But if Sons of Anarchy was your jam, you'll like it just fine.
Mayans M.C. premieres Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 10/9c on FX.