I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently about how this new “Golden Age” of TV has recently drawn to a close. According to many, it started with The Sopranos, was bolstered by the likes of The Wire and Mad Men, and now has ended courtesy of the finale of Breaking Bad, a show most would argue was the best show on television at the time.
I’m not sure how I feel about this characterization of the current TV landscape. Certainly, there are still a great many shows that I still watch and enjoy, but are they right? Among the good and most popular, are there really any out there that match the caliber of Breaking Bad or the other immortal series that came before it?
With this in mind, I’m starting a series that examines the question, and goes through a number of possible candidates that could take Breaking Bad’s crown, or fail to live up to it. Most of these shows have been on for a while, and most have only gotten better with time. I’m starting with Sons of Anarchy, as you can see, but I will say up front the other contenders I’m considering are Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Mad Men. I welcome other suggestions as well, but it will be hard to write about shows I don’t watch (I’ve heard The Good Wife is the best show on TV now, for example).
Sons of Anarchy started out as a modern day retelling of Hamlet. Jax Teller is haunted by the ghost of his father in the form of a secret journal, and he slowly learns of the treachery of his new father figure, Clay, who he eventually figures out was responsible for his father’s death after conspiring with his mother. This Shakespearean parallel lasted a good number of seasons and should have ended with Clay’s death, but the show didn’t want to wrap things up in just four seasons, so Clay still lives, as does the show itself.
To start with something Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy have in common, they’re both masterful in the way they tell their stories, and how they unfold and change characters over time. The overall plots of both are incredibly intelligent for the most part, though both have had their slip-ups from time to time.
I’d say Breaking Bad’s best stories were told in seasons four and five, while Sons of Anarchy’s were in two or three. That isn’t to say the other seasons were bad, but Breaking Bad peaked at the end, while Sons of Anarchy’s best storylines might have been during its Hamlet phase. But even still, I think there is a case to be made for Sons of Anarchy being one of the best shows on TV right now, and I’d even hear an argument about it being the best in many ways. It’s audience is skyrocketing, much like what happened with Breaking Bad’s final season, and the show has an end date in sight, meaning it can build toward a finale on its own terms, rather than attempting to ramble on forever.
Overall however, I’m just not sure the same level of quality is present between SOA and Breaking Bad. You could spend hours analyzing the symbols, themes and motifs of Breaking Bad, rewatching episodes for hidden hints and clues and callbacks to past episodes. That isn’t really the case with Sons of Anarchy. While the structures of its plots are smart, there isn’t quite that level of detail, and it still feels like it’s one level down from Breaking Bad in that regard.
Similarly, though the Sons are a lovable bunch and each character has had their emotionally impressive moments, Clay Morrow is no Walter White, and Jax Teller is no Jesse Pinkman. While Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam’s performances are perfectly fine and even fantastic at times, they just don’t reach the level of immortality that Aaron Paul and especially Bryan Cranston were able to achieve with their characters. Out of all the shows I’m going to mention, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for anyone to ever even come close to matching Cranston, as his Walter White is arguably the best rendition of any character across all of pop culture, at least in my estimation.
Sons of Anarchy is an incredible show, and you should take the opportunity to catch up as far as you’re able via Netflix, and get your hands on the rest however you can until you’re caught up with present day. The show has been responsible for some of the most stunning moments I’ve ever witnessed in a TV show, in the form of both mind-blowing plot twists and they’re sheer level of brutality.
While it’s not quite on the level of Breaking Bad, I would argue that it’s certainly close, and its final season might take it to a place it’s never been before in terms of quality.