If you watched FX’s biker drama Sons of Anarchy, you will be well-primed for its spinoff Mayans MC, which essentially follows the same pattern of the original. Instead of being the story of the heir-apparent to the motorcycle club, though, we follow a young prospect, EZ Reyes (J.D. Pardo). The characters who surround EZ all have shades of Sons of Anarchy counterparts; there is, more or less, a Bobby, a Chibs, Opie, Clay, etc (no Tig yet but I remain hopeful). The desire to compare the new Mayans characters with ones we’ve known and loved though comes largely from the fact that Mayans MC — at least as of its first two episodes — doesn’t do much to introduce or define them for us. The long-awaited spinoff feels in many ways like the later seasons of Sons of Anarchy, where heavy plotting peppered with gruesome violence overtook the character connections that had made the story so strong to begin with. Mayans MC is also missing a key element that always elevated Sons: Gemma. Without that strong female presence and her Lady Macbeth ways, Mayans MC is just a hyper-masculine and violent story of gangland life.
And look, if that is your thing (I see you, fans of those last Sons of Anarchy seasons), then Mayans MC starting where it does and as it does may appeal to you, even through an overly-long and disjointed premiere. The cast is solid, particularly the handsome and charismatic Pardo, who makes a compelling protagonist. There are also several cast members who fans will remember from SOA (including Emilio Rivera as Alvarez), but the not-so-subtle opening scene of a dead crow being mowed down by a Mayans motorcycle is a clear message from creator Kurt Sutter that we’re moving on.
In addition to missing a Gemma (or any female character who has depth), Mayans MC also lacks perspective when it comes to who the club even is, and their role and relationship to the community. The main issue is that the focus is not solely on the club, or even EZ’s internal struggle about being a part of it (an early flashback shows him as a promising student accepted to Stanford, but a stint in prison erased those dreams). Instead, they mostly run errands for a cartel boss, Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino), whose life and family we get to know better than any of the bikers. Things escalate quickly, as they often do when drugs are involved, and by the second episode the club is in the middle of a battle between Galindo and a resistance movement made up of the victims of his bloody operations.
This in and of itself is an interesting concept, as we see both sides of a horrific war with a high human cost. And yet, it also means that the club feels like an afterthought. Some of the members are openly sympathetic to the resistance, but Galindo pays them a ton of money to work for him. It creates a conflict for the Mayans to engage with, but one that doesn’t yet feel earned, especially since we don’t know the club members well enough to understand how much of a conflict for them this really is.
The bottom line is this: if you want to watch a great and entertaining TV series about brotherhood and being outlaws, with a strong woman at the center who holds it all together and runs the show, you should be watching Animal Kingdom on TNT, which is more of a spiritual successor to the early seasons of Sons of Anarchy than Mayans MC currently is.
Mayans MC premieres August 4th on FX