"Sons of Anarchy" is a show that has built up viewership over its first two seasons. (Season 3 begins Friday.)
The FX drama focuses on an outlaw motorcycle club that operates in the fictional Northern California town of Charming, irony intended. It full name is Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original, and members refer to it as SAMCRO or Sam Crow.
The club - operating within and outside the law - keeps its own kind of justice. One of its members, Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the club's vice president, who is the son of the club's original founders, is beginning to wonder if things are getting a bit rotten in Charming.
While SAMCRO keeps meth traffickers and drug dealers out of the town, which angers some bad guys, the bikers have no problem running guns or a protection racket, and the club's president, Clay (Ron Pearlman) not only knows how to grease his hog but local palms as well. It's all business, a bit like "The Godfather's Vito Corleone.
His wife, Gemma (Katy Sagal) - a tough but human biker babe - plays a bigger role than Mamma Corleone ever did.
While SOA has drawn comparisons to Shakespeare's "Hamlet," in that Clay is Jax's stepdad and he has mommy issues, the series' intentions are not that insightful or well drawn. It is, at heart, a dusty, hog-heavy mob story - not exactly "The Sopranos." The club's founding by a couple of Vietnam vets searching for personal freedom may resonate with some viewers in an "Easy Rider" sort of way, but, for me, rooting for bad people who do things that aren't as bad as others isn't always that rewarding. "SOA" is well acted, though, and it keeps up the dramatic tension.
Season 6 of "House" found the brilliant pain-killer pill-popping doctor (Hugh Laurie) trying to cure his addictions, hallucinations and guilt with a stop at a mental hospital and some therapy from Andre Braugher. His stay at detox only lasted a couple of episodes before he returned to Plainview Hospital, where he likes to make life crazy for his staff, smart, attractive people in their own ways but each with their own hang-ups, including their addictions to working for House.
What the series has always been good at is weaving in larger ethical and moral questions with its characters' personal problems. A key episode comes early in Season6 in, "Tyrant," when two of House's assistants - Foreman (Omar Epps) and Chase (Jesse Spencer) - must deal with treating an African dictator (James Earl Jones) who is planning a genocidal attack on a minority in his country. The repercussions of the two doctors' decisions last throughout the season.
But at the heart of the series are House's character and Laurie's performance. It is interesting to see how often the doctor is humbled by his own hubris, yet still has the drive and curiosity to find the cause of his patient's illness - whether he's on time or not. After six seasons, Laurie's House may be a bit older and chastened but still as irascible as ever and always capable of surprising.
The 1950s and '60s were filled with marvelous anthology series on television, a number of them dealing with the macabre, mostly notably "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone." Despite its brief run, "Thriller" was considered one of the best. (One of its champions is Stephen King.) The NBC show ran from 1960-1962 and was hosted by the Frankenstein monster himself, Boris Karloff.
If you've never seen it you can now judge for yourself. The complete series is out in a box set, with 22 hours of commentary tracks by some of the talent who worked on "Thriller," including directors Arthur Hiller and Ted Post, plus other extras.
Not quite "Death Wish," "Harry Brown" is an updated British version of the vigilante-revenge story - except a bit older. The 77-year-old Michael Caine, who has essayed these types of roles before - notably in the 1971 "Get Carter," is a steely former military retiree living in a bad area of London. Seemingly resigned to the violence of the times, one day he snaps after watching one too many of his friends and neighbors being brutalized and terrorized by local gang members.
Of course, dispatching even bad guys brings the attention of the police in a detective (Emily Mortimer), who's been trying to nail a gang leader (Ben Drew).
"Harry Brown" has the appeal of Caine, who excelled in these sorts of roles for years. But its "I am vengeance" routine is a bit tired even if director Daniel Barber tries to jazz it up visually and make a septuagenarian the hero.