Cable. It's not just for summer anymore.
Maybe it's simply more delays caused by the writers strike. Maybe it's the fact that the new network offerings are looking so dismal, NBC should just go for the ratings and shoehorn its Olympic stars into its new shows. (Michael Phelps is Robinson Crusoe! Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin are "Kath & Kim"! Usain Bolt is whatever Christian Slater is supposed to be in "My Own Worst Enemy"!)
Whatever the case, cable no longer seems afraid of the networks' fall lineups. The industry is bringing back some of its finest scripted shows this month -- "The Shield" (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX), "Entourage" (10 p.m. Sept. 7, HBO), "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (10 p.m. Sept. 18, FX), "Dexter" (9 p.m. Sept. 28, Showtime) and "Californication" (10 p.m. Sept. 28, Showtime) -- and introducing three high-profile series: Steven Bochco's legal drama "Raising the Bar" (10 p.m. Monday, TNT), Alan Ball's vampire drama "True Blood" (9 p.m. Sept. 7, HBO) and the motorcycle drama "Sons of Anarchy" (10 p.m. Wednesday, FX).
"Anarchy" is especially fitting in the battle against the networks, since its stars rarely pull any punches. In the premiere alone, members of the biker gang -- sorry, "motorcycle club" -- break a pool cue across a rival's face, impale the sharp end into his groin, and later gun down another group of rivals and set fire to their remains after wedging dynamite into a corpse's backside.
But the Sons are good guys. Really.
Yes, they run guns -- serious firepower that they sell to serious gangbangers -- and they've been known to help high-end electronics fall off trucks. But they also go to great lengths to keep drug dealers and real estate developers out of their idyllic hometown of Charming, Calif.
Think of the series as "Hamlet on a Harley." Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the heir to the Sons' thrown. After his father, the club's original king, was killed, his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), married Clay (Ron Perlman), his father's brother-in-arms. When Jax confronts his father's ghost, in the form of dad's manuscript detailing the original idea behind the Sons -- social rebellion, more hippie than outlaw, sort of a biker commune -- he begins challenging Clay's leadership.
Adding to the whole Shakespearean vibe is Gemma, who could rival some of the Bard's broads. When she learns Jax has been lobbying to end the gun-running, she waits for an intimate moment to tell Clay she doesn't want her son going soft like his father did, doesn't want him "ruining everything we've built" and tells Clay to get Jax in line "whatever it takes."
At first glance, Hunnam may seem like an odd choice to play the volatile Jax, who's also struggling with his damaged newborn son and the junkie ex-wife (Drea de Matteo) who delivered 10 weeks early after OD'ing on smack.
To Judd Apatow fans, Hunnam always will be Lloyd, the dandy-ish theater major who shared a suite with future stoner comedy icon Seth Rogen on "Undeclared." But spend a few minutes with him, and it's easy to see that the gritty drama is more his speed.
"I really enjoyed working on 'Undeclared,' and I had a wonderful experience and really loved all of those guys, some of them I'm still very close to," he says. "But it was so far out of my wheelhouse. I've never been interested in doing comedy, and I was uncomfortable doing comedy."
Despite "Anarchy's" darkly funny undercurrents -- mostly of the boys-will-be-boys variety, even though one of the "boys" is old enough to require an oxygen tank -- Hunnam has turned down every full-on comedic role since "Undeclared," preferring parts closer to his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Newcastle, England.
"I was a rough little kid growin' up. I mean, I definitely had my share of fights," he says. "But all that's behind me now. I'm an actor, darling."
For the record, he said the "darling" part to a female colleague standing beside me.
If you're going to take on the networks, you still have to be at least a little bit of a badass.
Christopher Lawrence's Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.