‘The Mayans’: A Drug-Running Motorcycle Gang and American Family Values. Hey, These Days, Why Not?

After a short and rather unsatisfying visit to the Middle Ages, Kurt Sutter is returning to his comfort zone of contemporary violent California motorcycle gangs. Er, clubs.

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J.D. Pardo as EZ Reyes in “The Mayans.”

Lest there be any doubt that Sutter’s new series The Mayans shares bloodlines with his late underappreciated Sons of Anarchy, the opening scene of The Mayans features a crow.

Since the acronym for the motorcycle club in Sons of Anarchy was SAMCRO, no fan will miss the connection or the message.

The Mayans roars into action Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, and Sutter smartly sprinkles Sons references and motifs into a new yet familiar world.

The Mayans, a supporting act in Sons, get their own story here. The branch on which the show will focus is a charter in Southern California near the Mexican border. The members are Latino, which itself adds an intriguing subtext.

While they probably multitask, the Mayans’ first job here is providing transportation and protection for the heroin pipeline of the Galindo cartel, headed by second-generation boss Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino).

Miguel has the slick manner and arrogant confidence of a man with all the answers. His deal with the Mayans was struck for mutual convenience, not mutual affection.

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Sarah Bolger as Emily Thomas.

Miguel has such faith in his untouchability that he maintains a publicly respectable life as the rich, loving husband of Emily Thomas (Sarah Bolger). They have a son they both adore.

Emily is way more than just a Godfather wife here. She serves as a critical plot link because she was for a long time the girlfriend of Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (J.D. Pardo), the linchpin character in The Mayans.

The son of hard-working immigrant Felipe “Pop” Reyes (Edward James Olmos), EZ was the second-generation kid who was going to crash his way into successful America because he was smart and knew the game and had every resource of the family behind him.

He got as far as Stanford. Then something happened and now, instead of applying for a Neiman Fellowship, EZ is a “prospect” being vetted for the Mayans.

His brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas) is his sponsor. They love each other, which may or may not be enough.

To the surprise of no one, the Mayan/Galindo arrangement hits a rough patch and violence breaks out. While bad guys are often bad shots, they throw enough sheer volume of lead that people get hurt.

The first episode contains almost no counterpresence to the illegal drug industry. The police seem at best seriously outnumbered, which doesn’t mean the cartel has nothing to worry about.

For starters, they might want to be concerned about Adelita (Carla Baratta), who has a history with the Galindos and would like some closure.

The Mayans has a tough task in at least one sense: Even though Sutter cleansed his palate between courses with the unrelated and unsuccessful Bastard Executioner before he came back to The Mayans, any new Sutter motorcycle drama inevitably will be compared to Sons.

That’s a high bar, and no show, including The Mayans, could instantly clear it. It will take a while for fans to reactivate that level of engagement.

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EZ and his Dad Felipe, played by Edward James Olmos.

Sutter always said Sons at its heart was about family, and the closeness of the Reyes family suggests he would likely say the same about The Mayans.

As for viewers, we had a love/hate relationship with the Sons characters. We hated their career choices and the often gruesome consequences, at the same time we never stopped hoping something could keep alive the flickering lights of their better angels.

That’s already a good description for the EZ Reyes character. Whether we will eventually care enough about him to maintain that hope will likely determine whether The Mayans endures.

Sons of Anarchy started well and needed time to get better, to prove it wasn’t just a ride through Desolation Row. The characters in The Mayans deserve time, too.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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