“Sons of Anarchy” ran seven seasons on FX, which helps explain why its spinoff, “Mayans M.C.,” doesn’t appear interested in reinventing the wheel; rather, this new biker-gang series seeks to replicate the earlier show’s visceral appeal with a predominantly Hispanic cast, exhibiting some of the same strengths and all of the brutal excesses.
Picking up after events in the earlier show, “Mayans” centers on another motorcycle club (the “M.C.” part), and specifically new member Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo), who is seeking to prove himself within the gang’s hierarchy.
“Mayans” is created by “SOA” patriarch Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, who quickly put together enough moving parts to establish an array of dramatic possibilities. To that extent it’s skillfully assembled, consisting largely of new characters, layering on rivalries, warring factions and EZ’s history, raising the question how and why a seemingly straight-laced kid — shown in flashback visiting his girlfriend during “a break before finals” –wound up in this grim, gruesome life.
As with “Sons,” “gruesome” is often the operative word. And while the show is set in the not-for-the-faint-of-heart world of crime and drug cartels, Sutter wastes little time in depicting creative means of torture — a sadistic streak that’s organic to this universe, but which doesn’t make the reliance on it as a dramatic device less unsavory.
“Mayans” somewhat balances that with disarming humor — such as the amusing sight of macho club members trafficking in frilly party dresses as contraband — and incorporates an ambitious subplot that deals with border politics, including elements working against corruption in the Mexican government.
In some respects, this is more wholly realized than “Sons of Anarchy” was in its early stages, certainly in terms of the central character. Pardo is tough and mysterious, while Edward James Olmos is as usual a welcome addition, here as his supportive dad.
That said, the soapier flourishes — including Sarah Bolger’s role as the aforementioned woman from EZ’s past — play as a bit cliched. The ethnic and cultural trappings, meanwhile, provide a welcome showcase for Hispanic talent, the tradeoff being that this is another series that explores an ethnic group through the prism of criminality and violence, where the business meetings tend to focus on things like “jacking” a shipment from the wrong cartel.
For “Sons” loyalists, Sutter and company have delivered a show that promises to provide similar thrills, immersing them in another quadrant of that ruthless landscape, where corruption is the norm and morality is negotiable.
The producers also serve notice, early and often, that like its predecessor, “Mayans” will push to the serrated edge of what FX will allow. That promises a journey not everyone will be eager to take, but at this point, nobody should be surprised by the nastier twists and turns that come with the territory.
“Mayans M.C.” premieres Sept. 4 at 10 p.m. on FX.