TV Review: Mayans MC

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SYNOPSIS:  Mayans MC takes place two-and-a-half years after the events of Sons of Anarchy and will focus on the struggles of Ezekiel "EZ" Reyes, a prospect in the Mayan MC charter on the California/Mexico border. EZ is the gifted son of a proud Latino family, whose American dream was snuffed out by cartel violence. Now, his need for vengeance drives him toward a life he never intended and can never escape.

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REVIEW: It goes without saying that the anticipation for Mayans MC comes with the same caveats that befell Better Call Saul. When first announced, the spin-off of Breaking Bad was met with hesitation from fans and critics who were skeptical that it could ever match the quality of Vince Gilligan's iconic series. Four seasons later and Better Call Saul is both a critical darling and a fan favorite that many consider equal to the saga of Walter White. Maynas MC may not live up to the same level as it's predecessor, Sons of Anarchy, but the spin-off series from Kurt Sutter and Elgin James comes really close. Set after the conclusion of Sons of Anarchy, which featured Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) riding out in a blaze of glory, Mayans MC is firmly set in the same world of biker gangs involved in the drug trade and the impact that life has on their families. It may be too early to tell if this series will connect with audiences as much as Sons of Anarchy, but it sets itself up to have a long road ahead.

As a fan of Sons of Anarchy, I can admit that the series sagged in the middle. Some characters stayed alive much longer than they should have (Ron Perlman's duplicitious Clay Morrow, for example) and others were gone far too soon. Over a run of seven seasons and ninety-two episodes, Sons of Anarchy made us feel for the doomed Teller clan in a story that was very similar to that of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Mayans MC tries very hard not to hit the same beats as Sons of Anarchy but still has an epic scope with a focus on the familial connections of the main characters. There is a lot of attention paid to the connections between the Mayans and the Galindo cartel in Mexico, something glossed over in Sons of Anarchy. A lot of time is spent explaining the cultural elements of the Mexican-American members of the club compared to their Mexican brethren but that detail sacrifices time that could have been spent making the characters more compelling.

Every character on Mayans MC feels like they should exist in this universe. The appearance of Emilio Rivera as Marcus Alvarez, the president of the Oakland chapter of the Mayans and a frequent character on Sons of Anarchy, helps anchor this series within the fictional universe it takes place in. There is also a brief cameo that I will not spoil that helps set the timeline for where Mayans MC fits in with it's predecessor. But, these connections also illustrate what is lacking with this series: a compelling lead. JD Pardo is a very different actor than Charlie Hunnam and their characters could not be more different. Unlike the heir apparent that Jax Teller was, Pardo's Ezekiel "EZ" Reyes is a prospect whose brother is a full patch member of the Mayans. EZ has spent time behind bars where he had to give up the love of his life and their child and now must start over from scratch. He reads poetry and is very intelligent as well as possesses a photographic memory, but beyond that, he is not very exciting to watch. Maybe it is unfair to compare him to Jax Tellter as a character, but from the very first episode of Sons of Anarchy, you bought into the characters and stuck with them on their journey.

The supporting cast are all good, but no one really stands out to make themselves truly distinct. Clayton Cardenas is good as EZ's brother, Edward James Olmos is his usual solid self playing the patriarch of the Reyes clan, and Michael Irby is serviceable as Bishop, the leader of the Mayans Santo Padre chapter. The biggest standout is Richard Cabral who plays the slightly off kilter Johnny “El Coco” Cruz who reminded me quite a bit of Kim Coates' Tig on Sons of Anarchy. Aside from Cabral, the characters are all roughly interchangeable and have yet ot really distinguish themselves from each other. I can say that the most memorable members of the cast are Sarah Bolger who plays EZ's childhood love Emily and Carla Baratta's Adelita. Both women have strong connections to EZ's story and could both serve as love interests for him in very different ways, representing the two different sides of the border in this story. Much like Maggie Siff and Katy Sagal did on Sons of Anarchy, these women are three-dimensional characters and may be more interesting to watch than their male counterparts.

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When Mayans MC works, it works because of how similar it still is to Sons of Anarchy. From the eclectic selection of music that accentuates the action scenes and dramatic montages to the profanity and violence that pepper the entire episode, Mayans MC feels like a natural continuation of the biker gang story with flipped results. Hell, there is even a scene in the first episode that features the Sons of Anarchy (led by Robert Patrick, of all people) riding to the rescue of the Mayans much in the way the Mayans would show up to save SAMCRO in the old days. It works because you have seen it before. Mayans MC doesn't feel like it has a story to tell beyond just continuing what we have already seen. With the weakest seasons of Sons of Anarchy, I was already invested in the characters to see where they would end up when the story reached it's natural conclusion. I don't know if I feel that way about Mayans MC, yet.

For fans of Sons of Anarchy, Mayans MC is an interesting way to continue the world they invested themselves in for several seasons but will need to tell it's own story. There is absolutely a twist to this series that is explained in the final act of the series premiere, but then there is a second twist that may be a little too much to throw at the audience in the first chapter of an ongoing series. This is not the "Mexican" Sons of Anarchy even if culture does play a major factor in this series. This is not an ethnically flipped version of Kurt Sutter's biker epic but it doesn't quite deliver on a story that will put those fears to rest. There is a lot of potential for Mayans MC to distinguish itself like Better Call Saul has, but it has a long way to go.

Mayans MC premieres September 4th on FX.

Source: JoBlo.com



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