Sons of Internet Anarchy - Macleans.ca
 

Sons of Internet Anarchy


 

Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy, is one of the most interesting of the many TV showrunners who post or tweet online, particularly in his relationship to the community of online TV critics. In a blog post after the season finale of Sons of Anarchy, he lit into the critics who, he argued, don’t get the show and what it’s going for – in particular, he felt that some critics want the show to be a realistic drama rather than the pulpy soap opera it is. Then, when he’d calmed down a bit, he gave a more mellow interview to Alan Sepinwall where he retracted or modified some of what he had said, and discussed the same issues in a less contentious tone.

The original post is still valuable, though, as an expression of some of the frustrations of a TV showrunner’s relationship to critics, and particularly to episode-by-episode reviewers, a format that has only taken off in the last few years. (For many years, a continuing show only expected to get reviews for the season premiere and maybe the occasional event episode that the network made a special point of sending to critics in advance. The internet mainstreamed the idea of episode-by-episode discussion, but it originally mostly took the form of multi-person discussions or recaps. The weekly review is now more important than it was only a few years ago, when Sutter was working on The Shield.) It also expresses one of the recurring frustrations of the showrunner, or the artist in general, the feeling that critics want him to be making a different kind of show. Sutter argues at length that if Sons of Anarchy were a realistic drama, it wouldn’t have lasted a season, and that it should be judged on its own terms as a combination of darkness and escapism – a “blockbuster” show with some serious ideas, rather than a down-the-line serious show.

In the Sepinwall interview he also addresses the issue of reality: some things happen that could never happen in real life, and some scenes seem to abandon verisimilitude; is that a flaw or just part of the show’s style that people should accept? There’s no clear answer to this, which is why it can be tricky to say that critics should judge a show on its own terms – sometimes, particularly in television, there’s no way of knowing what is an intentional part of the show and what is just corner-cutting. Don Bellisario’s famous maxim about the logic of Quantum Leap, “Don’t examine this too closely,” stands in for a lot of television: TV is made fast, and it’s made (relatively) cheap, and sometimes the unreality we see on the screen are flaws, or shortcuts, that we have to accept or overlook. (If we are caught up in the story, of course, we probably will overlook them – at least until the second viewing – so if someone notices a reality hole it could be a sign that he or she is finding a bigger flaw in the show.) I think there is sometimes a tendency for logic and consistency to be applied too rigorously, especially when it goes to the extreme of questioning the very nature of episodic storytelling, or demanding more consistency from TV than we get in real life. But there is certainly room for argument about whether a logic gap is a mistake, or just a fundamental part of the way the show chooses to tell its stories. That’s where a lot of the disagreements come from.

But there certainly is something to the idea that our reaction to a show depends on what we think it’s trying to do. To go back even farther than Quantum Leap, a 1959 reviewer of Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, who felt it was a sign of irrevocable decline, pointed out some things in the movie that simply would not happen in the real places where the movie was shot – for example, cliffs in an area that didn’t have any cliffs. To most viewers of the movie, and to Hitchcock himself, this seemed like nit-picking, because the whole movie was so obviously a comic fantasy where the only thing that mattered was internal logic, not real-world logic. But most works aren’t goofy comic fantasies, and with a more dramatic piece, it’s harder to say how much real-world rules should apply. A show like Sons of Anarchy is somewhere in between realism and fantasy, so different viewers are going to expect a different mix, and that will shape the kind of logic they expect to show to follow. And in any case, there are always ideas of dramatic logic that go beyond real-world rules: you can think something is plausible, or at least acceptable, and still find it dramatically weak.

I’ll note finally that I think the developing relationship between showrunners and critics is a fascinating development. It’s not exactly new, because there have been certain TV critics that producers both respected and feared. Tom Shales was once like that; producers really cared what he thought, even if they were infuriated by what he thought. Today, there are more TV critics and they communicate more frequently with the TV producers, so several people can be what Tom Shales was in the ’70s and ’80s, the person whose opinion the showrunners really respects even as they disagree. It’s a reminder that there are things beyond success for a lot of (maybe most) people in Hollywood. Sutter has the most popular drama on basic cable, so in terms of getting his message across to the people, he’s doing fine; he could argue, and to some extent does, that he doesn’t have to explain himself because the viewers get it. But showrunners relate to critics they like almost the way they do to friends: they won’t change what they do to suit them, but they do enjoy arguing things out with friends, explaining what they’re trying to do, and getting some recognition that is usually reserved for the actors on the show. It’s a prickly relationship, but it is basically a friendly one in many ways.


 
Filed under:

Sons of Internet Anarchy

  1. I think Sutter has POUNDED the “oh he is a FED” angle into dust. Zorbel… fed…Romeo.. fed..  That and the rat twist as well… for a group that prides itself on not rating…they sure seem to rat a lot.

    I think most fans understand SOA cannot mirror reality ( hell, CA has a three strikes law and for a felon to carry a concealed weapon would be bad news…).. I think the angor over the CIA twist is that it has been done before with Zorbel..and it was SO unreal..  I mean c’mon.. Romeo is laying waste to dozens of people, running coke, and UNAWARE of the FBI RICO sting…

    It was just dumb. If Sutter thinks saying: WELL ITS A TV SHOW! is a defense for him to do anything he wants, we’ll have aliens in Charming next.  The fact Sutter didn’t see this coming speaks a lot..

    • Dick,
      I would say, If your so worried about how real the show is, then maybe you should shut the hell up while your ahead. Did’nt you see Sutter push that sugical tool into that guys brain. Keep talking shit, and he might find your punk ass too.
       
      I think in real life, he’s not half blind, or in prison, so he could get to ya pretty easy.

      Bottom line – It’s a television, not reality. It’s entertainment, and Kurt is a master at his craft. You should focus your efforts on something real, instead of fiction and fictional characters.

      For god’s sakes man … get a life … or turn the channel. Entertainment Tonight is probably on.

      Pappy
      Salem’s Creed MC

    • So you can voice your opinion about how lame some things were this season how about getting your facts right. You obviously don’t get into SOA or you would know that the fed angle was done for the first time this season. Zobel was an informant , NOT a fed. Before you criticize get your facts right and the characters name too. Zobel not Zorbel

  2. I thought the finale was great. The CIA twist was a nice way to wrap things up. I seriously don’t get why people are b*tching about it. What did you want him to do, take Jax out of the show, lock everyone else up again in a rico sting? What kind of show would that be? Sutter is a damn genius. He knows how the story is going to end up and as a true fan, I trust him to do what he has to do storyline wise to make it happen. There isn’t another show on tv right now as well written, or as captivating as SOA. And since we’re talking about reality, what criminal organizations can you name that don’t have to deal with feds and rats? It’s a major, realistic concern, and a part of the life. The people who hand out awards over there in Hollywood are either too deaf and blind to recognize greatness when they see it, or too cowardly and proud to admit they made a mistake about SOA. It doesn’t matter, we the fans will still be watching. Hell I’d watch SOA if it was reduced to a damn puppet show on public television.

    • This tension from this season was building towards a final confrontation between the irish, the Cartel and SOA…with the RICO sting being the hammer.  Every episode, every arc, was building the tension and increasing the stakes in that final conflict….

      And then just SECONDS into the final episode Sutter ERASED the entire season. Everything that was pending, was suddenly gone.  FOR A REASON THAT JUST MADE NO SENSE.

      No one is saying the show is reality or must be real world. But this was beyond reason. Imagine if Sutter had made it painfully clear in every episode that a certain car was blue… and then in the final the car was pink..without reason or explaining it.. well that is what he did with Romeo and Luis.   That isn’t good writing.

      But the WORST part is the final scene. I wish someone could explain to me why the club just accepts that Jax is the new President…. as far as EVERYONE at that table knew, Clay had just taken two bullets for the club. And there is Jax with the patch… again without reason or even explaining.  That isn’t good writing.

      I’m a fan of Sutter. I expect better.

      • How do we know they accept it? In the final scene he only gets to bang the gavel and in comes Tara, nobody said anything, they didn’t have a chance, the show ended before they got down to business. And isn’t it logical that the VP would stand in for the President when he’s incapacitated? It seemed logical to me, maybe Sutter wrote it as a non-issue because it was one.

  3. Okay, this is a very important question. If the CIA is backing up one cartel, why won’t the CIA give them guns and weapons? I’m, sure the CIA has more weapons than the irish. Someone answer this please. D :

    • Because as the last couple seasons have led up to,  but still haven’t come to a conclusion, everybody is always trying to take down the Irish Kings,  and end the gun running,  without enough true evidence,   enough to convict and bring down the whole Berlin Wall,  they don’t yet have enough truly witnessed to slam the hammer down!  even Jax is compelled by the Irish at this point,  because it is too big to take them all down!  they all still need the Irish to take down the whole system,  the way John Teller originally intended,  for the club to run drug and gun free and still profit!   the big idea is to run a club legally and still make money,  without any brother giving his life to prison for any unneeded sacrifice just to keep the club alive!  Clay saw the greedier side of the business and steered the club in the wrong direction no matter what it took to make the money,  as long as it didn’t hurt him personally,  he was truly willing to sacrifice any member to make the almighty green dollar!   tables will turn in S5 because all these questions everybody is pissed off about will be answered!  We just have to wait 9 months!  that is the sucky part!!   

  4. I know Sutter didn’t want to touch base too much on the Prison between seasons,  wanted to pick it up afterwards,  but for the fans who don’t have internet or fakebook,  they didn’t get to see some of the short clips of prison that explained a couple of the first episodes of season 4,  like Jax’s haircut was such a big deal,  his shank wounds,  and a couple other things,  things didn’t make sense to some people,  they were in the dark!   still are,  alot of people were really confused at the short finale of season four that left us not just antsy for S5,  which takes a whole damn year to come back,  it opened up 7 new cans of worms people won’t remember by the time the next season starts and will be confused all over again,   season 4 was action packed to the max,  non stop thriller dramatic action,  FUCKIN AWESOME,  but the finale that was supposed to close the chapter on alot of things  only opened it up to an uncontrollable level of too much shit going on to focus!  questioning reality is just stupid,  people watch SOA to kind of escape their boring ass lives,  and as for a real MC,  there is some nasty shit people couldn’t even stomach what really goes on sometimes!  people generally don’t know what they want,  much like undecided voters,   I wonder how many fans of this show went out there and bought a motorcycle and wear SOA gear thinkin they are cool as shit, and think they know how an MC works just because they watch this show!!  if anybody should be criticized,  it should be the consumer that swallows it all up like it’s inside intel to how it really is,  and think they know!!  LOL!!    I wonder how many fools actually tried to prospect into a club since becoming a fan of this show and never knew shit about any of it before they watched this show and just thought it was cool as hell!   I happen to know a few,  so it’s not unheard of,  this show obviously has some influence on people and all the WTF SUTTER and rants are more of people wanting to tell their own story,  which they know nothing about.  This is not your average BS Tv show,  it doesn’t work the way you want it to,  it’s not a comic book full of super heroes!  In violent places to live,  a majority of this show is really easy to believe,  and is not unheard of or out of the realm to believe it could happen!   All I see is a bunch of fans that actually have the chance to bitch about their favorite show,  and in this case the guy who creates and maintains the show actually listens,  so what is to bitch about??  

    • well said and I completely agree with you. I myself grew up around an MC and do know that a great deal of what these twits are bitching about being so unrealistic or out of the realm is in fact very much so in the realm of possibility in a real MC. I like how you brought up wondering how many idiots actually went and tried to join one after watching S.O.A that would be really funny especially if they thought they were gonna tend bar, or play baby sitter or anything anywhere near that simple to patch in cuz it ain’t gonna happen!!! They’ll b runnin home with their tails between their legs or moving away quicker than you or I could say boo to them after seeing the “reality” they claim to know so much about that is “A REAL MC”! So to those of u running ur mouths bitching n crying I find it funny if u could do it better why is it Sutter is n ur not??? How is S.O.A so successful with such a huge n diverse fan base if it’s as bad as u would have others belie and for that matter if thats how u feel y r u watching it??? Grow up! ur damn lucky Kurt takes the time to listen n respond n cares what his fans feel think most “showrunners” (or in Kurt’s case complete genius) don’t give a damn it’s their show they do what they want with it, he is not like that he’s a good man doin an awesome bang up job get off his ass. IN SHORT U DON’T LIKE IT DON’T WATCH IT N STFU!!!

  5. I just love this show, yes it is over the top and fantastical and that is why I love it. I live in the real world give me this kind of escapism any time!

  6. “And in any case, there are always ideas of dramatic logic that go beyond real-worldwith th rules: you can think something is plausible, or at least acceptable, and still find it dramatically weak.”

    Here’s my main issue with the show. I’ve never had a problem dropping my expectations of reality, but the show has become  dramatically weak. I lost a lot of respect artistically for Sutter in the interview with Sepinwall where he essentially admitted he didn’t want to kill Juice off because he likes the actor. THEN DON’T EXPLORE THE STORYLINE. There was absolutely no pay off with that storyline, and I have enjoyed Theo Rossi too, but it was a complete waste of a story that lead nowhere. The same can be said about his way of keeping Clay around. The Irish only willing to deal with Clay felt very manipulative and a loophole for Kurt to keep Clay around so he can explore that storyline too. Kurt should take some lessons from Vince Gilligan who has mastered the art of not dragging a storyline along like Mr. Sutter has seemed to fall in love with.

  7. You’se be kewl! You use “showrunner” hip new word.

    You’se kewl!!!