by Melissa Parkin
The first thing a casual viewer thinks of when hearing WGN America is either sports programming or off-air sitcom reruns. It’s not until the past couple years that the forty-year-old network has stepped outside its comfort zone and into original programming. Since making headway, WGN America has produced the highly acclaimed period drama Manhattan and the dangerously sexy supernatural series Salem. Added to the roster this year comes the Paul Giamatti/Kurt Sutter original show Outsiders.
In the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky rests mountain-folk known as the “Farrell Clan.” Having shunned the conventions and comforts of society, these people live in isolation just outside the fictitious town of Blackburg, where locals fear their unwelcomed presence on the rare occasion these outlaws make their way into town. The Farrell’s’ idyllic, homesteading way of life suddenly comes under attack as a mining company gains approval to evict the clan from their beloved mountain, to obtain the precious materials buried beneath the land.
This distressing news comes at an opportune time for Asa Farrell (Joe Anderson, “The Grey”), who has been imprisoned upon his return to the clan after spending a decade in ordinary society. Given that every other member of the clan is illiterate, Big Foster (David Morse) regrettably sets Asa free for his abandonment, as he needs him to read the eviction notice stapled at the bottom of the mountain. In town, widowed Deputy Sheriff, Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright, “The Bridge”), tries to warn his superiors regarding the inevitable bloodshed that will follow if they try to force out the unruly mountainfolk. His concerns are overlooked, and he’s now saddled with the ill-fated undertaking of having to remove the Farrells from their land.
News of the eviction results in a power struggle in the clan as monarch Lady Ray (Phyllis Somerville) delays turning over her authority to Big Foster. As retribution, Big Foster leads a raid in Blackburg against a mobster that goes sideways, resulting in a tailspin of events.
In the hands of lesser minds, “Outsiders” could quickly dissolve into a ridiculous attempt to glorify violence with the use of hillbillies as a catalyst to convey the evils of coal mining. As a welcomed surprise to the network’s growing catalog, the series surpasses expectations with deeply layered subplots, compelling performances, and cleverly crafted dialogue. Its true endowment, however, rests in its perfect cast of character actors. Kyle Gallner (“The Walking Dead” and “AmericanSniper”) proves only further just how underrated he truly is with his portrayal as the charming backwoodsman Hasil Farrell, holding his own amongst a very talented, eclectic troupe. Accompanying him is “Sons of Anarchy” alum Ryan Hurst, who steps back in to familiar territory as another ruffian outlaw, and David Morse as the aggressive and psychotic Big Foster. Thomas M. Wright, however, claims the title as the series’ official scene-stealer in his turn as the depressive Deputy Houghton.
Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between “Outsiders” and Kurt Sutter’s prized “Sons of Anarchy,” which is an amazing accomplishment for such a fresh faced series. Just as “SOA” paid homage to Hamlet, it’s impossible not to note the undertones of Macbeth in “Outsiders.” With copious amounts of moonshine, hunting, and criminal undertakings, fans of “Sons” and “Justified” will revel in WGN America’s unyielding newcomer.
It’s definitely a must-watch.