‘Mayans M.C.’: ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Outlaws Return For a Fresh Tale of Crime and Treason

Mayans M.C.” begins its first season with pure grit. A starving dog chews on a crow near the U.S.-Mexico border as a tough-looking biker cruises by. This is the first spinoff of FX’s previous rebels on wheels hit, “Sons of Anarchy.” While it maintains that show’s knack for testosterone meets intrigue, it also features a fresh identity with different themes. The season premiere of “Mayans M.C.” truly feels more like a western, using the world of the Mexican drug war to imagine some familiar characters (Latin drug lords) with new and interesting twists.

Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) is the latest “prospect” to be inducted into the Mayans M.C. biker gang after a stint in prison. Reyes was once a shining prospect in a different sort of environment, school. But a run-in with the police cost him his dreams and sent him to the slammer. Now EZ’s brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) hopes to get him fully accepted into the Mayan charter. It’s a hardened bunch which includes Obispo “Bishop” Losa (Michael Irby), Michael “Riz” Ariza (Antonio Jaramillo), Che “Taza” Romero (Raoul Max Trujillo), Hank “Tranq” Loza (Frankie Loyal), and Johnny “Coco” Cruz (Richard Cabral). The Mayans currently help smuggle shipments for the Galindo cartel and its oily boss, Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino). When one of the shipments is hijacked by the Samoan gang, Galindo demands answers and blood. It turns out the Samoans had been hired by a ruthless new outfit based across the border in Mexico, Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones), a group composed of family members of cartel victims, now seeking revenge. Galindo tasks the Mayans to take care of the problem. This EZ’s chance to prove himself, even if he harbors a few secrets, including the fact that Galindo’s current wife Emily (Sarah Bolger), used to be EZ’s girlfriend before he went behind bars.

Fans of “Sons of Anarchy” will find plenty to like in “Mayans M.C.,” while at the same time enjoying the new story angle. Some of the format remains the same, which is not surprising considering the co-creators of the previous show, Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, are back at the helm here. We get the gang of misfits, each with a distinct personality, and those serene but edgy shots of men on motorcycles making their way down highways, avenues and alleys. But by switching the focus to a Mexican gang, the show takes on an interesting tone. The soundtrack has a Latin rock vibe and the world of the show has a borderland feel. Prominent in the cast is renowned Chicano actor Edward James Olmos, who plays EZ’s father Felipe. Spanish is spoken just as much as English in this show, and with not too shabby accents. The show can’t avoid some campiness, like a Virgin De Guadalupe decked in bullet straps.

By now it’s become stereotypical to have Latinx actors cast as drug smugglers on TV and movies, but here there’s a different sort of outlaw style with a bit more complexity. EZ at first seems like the typical young guy trying to get inducted into a dangerous group, but by the end of the pilot there’s a twist that reveals his situation is more complicated and not about crime at all. He’s actually an informant for the authorities. The question is how long can he keep the façade going? Like the movie “Point Break,” this becomes a story about a man posing amongst criminals who live by a risky code. In just the pilot he’s already forced to sit through some gruesome displays of power, like when Galindo has a henchmen hack off a Samoan’s arm with a machete. A deadly shootout at a local cemetery results in a Sons of Anarchy cameo fans will cheer. And what would a spinoff be without the return of “El Padrino,” Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera)? He’s the top dog dealing with this crisis, but still makes EZ clean everyone’s rides. When the plot crosses over into the border it does something interesting and poses challenging moral questions. Are Los Olvidados the villains? They seek to take down Galindo for his ruthless practices, a fact made clear by the group’s leader, Adelita (Carla Baratta). This turns the protagonists into intriguing anti-heroes, working for a gangster fighting against people they don’t necessarily have anything against.

Above all “Mayans M.C.” will give satisfy your craving for more “Sons of Anarchy”-style testosterone fun. In great melodramatic fashion we want to keep watching to see how EZ will resolve his twin dilemmas of being a snitch and having lingering feelings for Galindo’s wife. The battle between Los Olvidados and Galindo, with the Mayans caught in the middle, will also make for a plethora of twists and turns, killings and beat downs. For newcomers and longtime fans of these characters, this is a ride worth getting on.

Mayans M.C.” season one premieres Sept. 4 and airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.