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'Vikings' is back and anarchy reigns

History’s scripted drama looks like a prequel to FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”

* VIKINGS. 10 tonight, History Channel.

* THE RED ROAD. 9 tonight, Sundance TV.

IF WE'VE learned anything in the past few TV seasons, it's that there's a sizable audience that can't get enough of scruffy, violent men and the women who love them (and sometimes fight by their sides).

We've seen it with the FX hit "Sons of Anarchy," and we're seeing it again with the History Channel's "Vikings" (which resembles "Sons" far more than it does HBO's "Game of Thrones," to which it's sometimes been compared, generally not favorably).

As "Vikings" returns tonight for a second season of raiding and pillaging, I'm increasingly looking at the historical drama from Michael Hirst ("The Tudors") as a kind of prequel to Kurt Sutter's "Hamlet"-flavored "Sons."

And, no, it's not just the hair.

Or even the resemblance between Charlie Hunnam, who plays SAMCRO leader Jax Teller in "Sons," and Travis Fimmel, as Ragnar Lothbrok in "Vikings."

It's more that Ragnar, a farmer-turned-warrior, and Jax, a second-generation motorcycle-club leader, seem to be on similar quests. Like Jax, Ragnar's looking around for new and better economic opportunities for his people while trying to placate those who'd prefer to maintain the status quo. And both, not incidentally, are responsible for the deaths of an awful lot of people along the way.

The shows' resemblances don't end there:

* Both feature kick-ass women characters (although "Sons" lost one in last season's finale). There will be dramatic shifts in the lives of Ragnar's warrior wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), and his scheming sister-in-law Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) in this season of "Vikings," but there's no reason to count either of them out.

* SAMCRO and the Vikings both visited Ireland on business, engendering a certain amount of ill will in the process.

* Donal Logue, whose "Sons" character didn't survive Season 6, will be back on "Vikings," where he plays King Horik. His "Sons" character? Lee Toric.

* Both shows occasionally touch on the place religion occupies in a violent world. Jimmy Smits' Nero Padilla hasn't had his beliefs tested on "Sons" to quite the extent that the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) has in "Vikings."

* Both shows feature groups that we're used to thinking of as outside the law but whose internal politics are complex - and often remarkably democratic.

A 'Road' not taken (yet)

The antihero drama, in which good men go bad and bad men get worse, isn't going away soon (see "Vikings," "Sons of Anarchy").

But there may be a limit to how many I want clogging my DVR. Or weighing down my soul.

So I'm probably not the ideal viewer right now for "The Red Road," the newest original drama from Sundance TV (formerly Sundance Channel), which premieres tonight.

Still, I'm not unintrigued.

Set in a small town just outside New York City that borders a Native American community, "The Red Road" stars Martin Henderson as a sheriff who's forced into an uneasy partnership with an ex-con (Jason Momoa, "Game of Thrones") after an incident involving the sheriff's wife (Julianne Nicholson).

You don't have to have lived through Watergate to know that it's the cover-up that gets you, but there's much more happening in "The Red Road," maybe too much to be contained in a six-hour first season, and some of it more interesting than what's going on between these two men - starting with Nicholson's performance as a woman who's been hiding one illness behind another.

Creator Aaron Guzikowski recently joked, in response to a reporter's question, that, in an ideal world, his movie "Prisoners" "would have been like 'The Winds of War,' probably."

It seems strange to ask for more of something I'm not even sure I want, but I might have found a longer - and less crowded - "Road" easier to travel.