Sons of Anarchy rode off into the sunset -- or, to be more accurate, right into a semi driven by Michael Chiklis -- in December 2014. The blood-soaked, adrenaline-fueled biker series, created by Kurt Sutter, remains FX's most-watched series in network history nearly four years later. Continuing the over-the-top drama via a second chapter feels like a no-brainer, and on Tuesday, the show's long-awaited spin-off, Mayans M.C., centered around a Latino club, will make its debut.
The series follows EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) a bright young man who grew up on the U.S./Mexico border and who nearly achieved the American Dream only to find the world had other plans. At the start of the series he's prospecting the Santo Padre charter of the Mayans, of which his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) is a patched member, after being released from prison. Sutter was intent on the series being an authentic depiction of this particular world, and because he was not familiar with it the way he was the world of the blue-collar white men at the heart of Sons of Anarchy, he brought in former gang member Elgin James to help tell EZ's story.
"When Kurt first contacted me about this and brought me on to help him create it, I was just a few years out of prison myself," James told TV Guide in August at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "I was dealing with the stuff that EZ Reyes is dealing [with]. A lot was going on while we were writing it. ... [I was] coming to L.A. and trying to change my life after being in a gang for the majority of my life."
The series, which is more of a companion series rather than a true spin-off, picks up a few years after the events of Sons of Anarchy. It naturally has a lot in common with its parent series, however, it is not simply Hamlet on Wheels: Part Two. Jax's (Charlie Hunnam) actions at the end of Sons have changed the outlaw landscape, and not just in Charming or Oakland, where much of the original show's action took place, but all the way down in Southern California, too. And while we don't yet know exactly how things will have changed, the series is setting itself apart in other ways, most notably by following a prospect rather than a man who is essentially club royalty.
"There's a fantasy element when you're Jax Teller, because you're immediately the prince. Who wouldn't want to be the prince? You already have the keys to the kingdom," star JD Pardo said. "I think what's relatable and what's universal [in our show] is the story of a human being having to start from the ground up, and what that process is like, what that journey is like. How do you survive? ... How do you make yourself into your own man or your woman? How do you rise into power when you have nothing? That, to me, is where EZ is coming [from] and what we see with him as a prospect in the Mayans M.C."
"The story is very different [from Jax's story]," added James. "It's more the story of the American Dream, of starting from the bottom and then building you're way up. ... I'm not sure how long [EZ's] gonna stay a prospect for, but we'll see even in the first season, he's gonna do a lot of stuff where he may be trying to earn his patch pretty early. We're throwing him into the fire."
However, despite their different paths toward the MC, EZ isn't completely dissimilar to Jax either.
"You can't be a good father and good family man, and then be the leader of an MC. That's what [Jax] learned at the end of [Sons of Anarchy]," Pardo said of Hunnam's conflicted leader. "You can't be an outlaw and want those other things. So, I think that it's going to be the same with EZ. He's going to have to make a choice of who he's going to be. And the exciting thing about EZ is that, you can already tell, I mean going to Stanford and all that stuff in the beginning, he reaches high, he reaches for the top. So, I can't imagine him wanting to be a prospect or something else other than a leader himself."
But even as EZ becomes more involved in the club, he will find himself struggling to reconcile the man he is now with the man he was prior to his prison stint."Does he belong? That's a thing ... that's going to be played out, and there is a situation that happens where he has this specific conversation with somebody," explained Pardo. "Right now EZ Reyes is carrying all this shame for having the American Dream within his grasp, and this better life, and then all of a sudden here he is running with the MC. And he has this idea that he shouldn't be there ... but I think what he learns is that he's exactly where he's supposed to be."
A new perspective at the heart of the series is certainly a good way to separate Mayans M.C. from Sons of Anarchy. However, the decision to have a prospect be viewers' entry into the series ultimately means EZ is not deeply involved in club politics at the start of the series. He is not in the room where the big decisions are being made. This means that the series is a true ensemble piece, with a deep bench that James likens to the Yankees of the late 1990s.
"We have actors that won't be in the whole script, [but] they're just phenomenal and on top of their game," said James. "So because of that, we have so many different avenues and ways to tell the story that [we] actually use it to our advantage to have things going on that our lead doesn't know about, but that the audience does, and other characters do."
The series doesn't waste a minute before kicking things into high gear and throwing a lot of story at viewers in a very short amount of time. It also makes use of flashbacks, something Sons of Anarchy purposefully didn't do, as it slowly reveals how and why EZ went from Stanford to doing the grunt work for a biker gang. But along the way the series also digs into the world surrounding the MC, which feels very familiar but also entirely new.
"They are just two completely different worlds. ... [Mayans M.C. is] more just about being an outsider. And the same way with the actors that we've put together, and the writers that tell the story ... it is a completely different culture. You'll see even the way that we're shooting is different," said James.
"There is something different when you [grow up] being brown," James continued. "You're just more diminished, you know? Whether you're either reviled or you're just invisible, when you are a person of color, it doesn't matter what your color is: black, brown, yellow, whatever, you just are lesser than. So, I think that's something that will make it's way into the club, and that's how [viewers are] gonna see the world a little bit different.
"We're trying to take the [people who are] most reviled, at this time, even from our political system, our government, the most reviled and feared people, and then trying to put a human face on that. That's all I want to do. People have been trying to to tell stories about black and brown characters forever as these one-dimensional stereotypes. Having growing up that way, and growing up, being in gangs and in prison, now I get to tell my story. I get to put a human face on that for the first time."
Mayans M.C. premieres Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 10/9c on FX.
Additional reporting by Megan Vick