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August 10, 2018 at 11:00 AM EDT
We gave it a B+

Sons of Anarchy made regular allusions to the broader biker world beyond its setting of Charming, California. The club had frequent run-ins with rivals the Mayans, and there were hints of SOA charters as far-flung as Russia. The new FX series Mayans MC (premiering Sept. 4) shares some DNA with Sons: Emilio Rivera reprises his role as Oakland charter president Marcus Alvarez, a major SOA character pops up in a flashback, both shows bear creator Kurt Sutter’s penchant for graphic violence and gratuitously shirtless studs. But Mayans already feels like a new, albeit comfortably familiar, entity.

Taking place two-plus years after the Sons finale, Mayans MC follows the eponymous Southern California club through the eyes of a prospect named Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (J.D. Pardo), a college kid-turned-convict with a heart for poetry and a photographic memory. EZ also has a secret, one that keeps him on the fringes of this band of outsiders, and one that could prove deadly to his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas), a full-patch member of the Mayans.

The club earns their living smuggling heroin for the Galindo cartel, led by Miguel (Danny Pino), a Cornell grad with impeccable suits and a taste for torture. Much of the action in the first two episodes centers on Miguel’s war with Los Olvidados, a Mexican rebel group that wants to destroy the cartel. That battle provides bursts of testosterone-fueled action (explosions, wrecked cars, a full-on brawl in a dog shelter), but the core of Mayans MC — like Sons before it — are the stories of the leather-clad men behind the muscle.

Angel, a gentle giant with a kind smile, harbors ambitions that could put him at odds with the club’s stern president, Bishop (Michael Irby). EZ regularly seeks refuge from club drama in the butcher shop owned by his pop (Edward James Olmos). As Felipe Reyes, Olmos radiates gruff warmth and papa-bear protectiveness; his steely gaze can transform anything, even a piece of trivia about bovine anatomy, into a chilling threat.

Lurking under the machismo is a fierce love that binds the Mayans together, and this brotherhood is drawn with heart and humor. The bikers always have an action-hero quip at the ready (Angel to a driver whose car just flipped: “How was your visit to the Upside Down?”), and American Crime’s Richard Cabral is a sly delight as Coco (the scruffy Mayan’s corny-but-endearing catchphrase: “My bad!”) — though his haunted eyes signal there’s more to him than comic relief.

The least interesting thread so far is the love triangle: Miguel is married to EZ’s ex, Emily (Sarah Bolger), which feels more like a “something for the ladies” network mandate than an organic part of the story.

Mayans benefits from the richness of its source material, and for Sons fans it’ll fit like a well-worn kutte. The premiere opens on the image of a dog digging into the guts of a dead crow. There’s a roar in the distance, and the mutt darts away just as a motorcycle crushes the bird’s carcass under its wheels. The crow is a nod to one of the final images in Sons, and the message from Sutter is clear: Sons of Anarchy is dead. Long live the Sons! Grade: B+

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