In recent years, FX has boasted such critically championed dramas as The Americans, Legion, and American Crime Story, but has largely avoided the action-heavy fare that made Sons of Anarchy such a big hit. That all changes this fall season thanks to the spinoff Mayans M.C., a roaring good time that retains much of what made the flagship drama so powerful, but with a (mostly) new cast and s refreshing new narrative that will mix its wide-open highways with the darker corners of Kurt Sutter's storytelling.

A far ways from the Charming setting where SAMCRO did its dirty work, the Mayans' Santo Padre charter is located near the border between California and Mexico, and is headed up by the no-bullshit club president Obispo "Bishop" Losa, portrayed by The Unit vet Michael Irby. He's cousins with Oakland charter president Marcus Alvarez, with Emilio Rivera reprising the role, making for the most natural Sons of Anarchy tie-in. Bishop has more natural charisma than Ron Perlman's Clay Morrow, and the character already comes across as equally duplicitous, though he isn't initially as intimidating as Clay was, at least in the earliest episodes.

Similarly, the show's lead character Ezekiel "E.Z." Reyes isn't as confrontational as Charlie Hunnam's Jax Teller was at his most passive, and for good reason. E.Z. wasn't necessarily born and raised on M.C. life, and was getting a solid education that promised a better future than the one he had coming. Something went wrong along the way, though, landing him in jail and disrupting a romantic relationship with Sarah Bolger's Emily, for whom he still holds strong feelings.

When Mayans M.C. kicks off, E.Z. is a Prospect within the club, having to suck it up while performing the bottom-of-the-rung duties that label entails. His brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) is a fully patched member of the Mayans, which obviously plays a big part in E.Z.'s intention to join the club, even if the younger sibling knows he's probably got more brainpower than everyone else. In general, star J.D. Pardo is as promising as the show is on the whole. Considering how popular Sons of Anarchy remains, the role provides some big shoes to fill, and Pardo does a fine job of playing both sides of the moral coin.

Even if E.Z. isn't quite as quick to beat the shit out of someone else as others in the brotherhood, he's not exactly hiding from the violence, which feels slightly less overwhelming than it did on Sons. He's got caveats for how far he'll go, though, and E.Z.'s first priority is the safety and well-being of his father Felipe, played by the always great Edward James Olmos. The Battlestar Galactica alum plays the somberly knowledgable wise man here, which doesn't give him a ton to do early on, but there's lots of room for Olmos to unpack the character as the story unfolds. This family's closet is no doubt full of skeletons comparable to the Teller's.

As it went on Sons of Anarchy, the Santo Padre chapter at the heart of Mayans M.C. is full of characters that deserve full development as the series goes along. We've got Raoul Trujillo as Che "Taza" Romero, who serves as the club's vice president, Vincent "Rocco" Vargas as the friendly neighborhood MMA fighter Gilberto "Gilly" Lopez, and Frankie Loyal Delgado as Hank "El Trankq" Loza, the Sergeant at Arms for the Mayans. The side character who perhaps gets the biggest hint of a story arc is Richard Cabral's Johnny "El Coco" Cruz, a scrappy biker with some family members who are also known for their illicit actions.

For anyone who hasn't ever watched Sons of Anarchy, the brazen metaphor during the premiere's opening moments might not make the most sense. But the show itself won't be the most hard-to-crack enigma, with brotherhood machismo and loyalty sitting front and center of the violence-ridden plotline. The overarching plot is set up right in the premiere, too, immediately giving viewers a problematic and emotionally rough story to latch onto, which lays out the potential for traitorous actions within the club itself, though probably not quite on the scale of what happened to Opie Winston in Sons' first season.

The central plot also offers the series' first crack at a villainous big bad. Enter Law & Order: SVU vet Danny Pino as the smooth-talking Miguel Galindo, the son of Jose Galindo, who founded the same-named cartel that has an iron grip on the area's criminal activity. Miguel's relationship with the Mayans M.C. isn't overwhelmingly friendly, but there's a mutual respect for territorial concerns, and the groups try not to step on each other's toes. That is, until a new group of rebels shows up and threatens the cartel for their years of unauthorized lethal justice, thus kicking off an interesting power struggle triangle between the different factions.

Co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James have done a fine job of reinterpreting the Sons of Anarchy formula for a So-Cal setting that embraces Latino lifestyles, albeit sometimes with stereotypical elements. Still, there aren't many other shows on TV right now that feature full lead casts with such diverse backgrounds, and whenever there's a Caucasian actor around, it's usually because someone from another area is dropping by for a visit. (I might be talking about S.O.A. characters there, or I might not be.)

For now, Sons of Anarchy is the gold standard for Mayans M.C. to stand up against/ride alongside, and in its opening episodes, the FX spinoff manages to do just that, even if its plots can't help but seem half-cribbed from SAMCRO's tumultuous heyday. But there is much more of this fast-paced chaos show to come to continue striking down new and surprising narrative paths, so I'll definitely be watching to see what happens next. And to see who shows up next...though it won't be Charlie Hunnam.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

Mayans M.C. will make its big debut on FX starting on Tuesday, September 4, at 10 p.m. ET, so be sure to tune in. Wondering what else is coming to the small screen soon? Head to our fall TV schedule.

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