outsiders wgn america

Not quite a year after the excellent Justified left the air, a new drama takes us back into the hollers and wilds of Kentucky. OUTSIDERS, which premiered last night on WGN America, is the story of a small town and the feral Farrells who inhabit the mountain beside it. While civilization and tribal culture have existed peacefully beside one another for two centuries, modernity is moving in from the outside, which threatens to shake up everything.

The Farrells themselves have an interesting culture. Led by the current “Brennan,” Lady Ray (Phyllis Somerville, The Big C), they brew their own moonshine, abhor money, marry cousins, and yet seem to get along pretty well. Sure, they go into town and steal things occasionally, but the locals have learned to put up with it, partially out of fear, and partially because the clan knows the limits of what they can get away with. A few, like Hasil (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars), push boundaries from time to time, such as when he tries to take up with a non-Farrell, Sally Ann (Christina Jackson, Boardwalk Empire), but mostly, they know their place. So it has been for two hundred years, and so it shall continue, or so some hope.

But the status quo is shifting as Big Foster (David Morse, Treme) seeks to take the leadership mantle from his mother, even after Lady Ray is reluctant to give it to him. When one of their own, Asa (Joe Anderson, Hannibal), returns from the outside with new knowledge and skills, there becomes a choice as to who the Farrells should be listening to. Events conspire to shift loyalties of some one way and some the other, and suddenly there’s a decision to make instead of a guaranteed line of succession.

This is where OUTSIDERS begins, with a people on the precipice of change. It will take someone strong to usher then into a new era, someone who understands the parties involved, but can see beyond petty feuds and backward traditions. It could be Asa, who has shunned the rest of the world after living apart from his family for unknown reasons. But if it’s not him, it’s not certain who else it could be.

In Justified, there was a lawman who kept the hill people in line enough. OUTSIDERS has its own deputy, Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright, The Bridge), but he’s far from another Raylan Givens. Instead, Wade is beset by his own demons, and may just be the person in town most terrified of confronting the Farrells. Which is too bad because, pushed to do so by the coal companies, Wade’s boss assigns him the unenviable task of evacuating the mountain.

OUTSIDERS is fascinating because of the various personalities it portrays, some of which will seem rooted in folklore more than reality to potential viewers. Yet, even with the superstitions present, the series is pretty solidly grounded by terrific performances and an interesting, natural story (more reality-driven than the network’s Salem). Perhaps most of those displaced by industry aren’t as violently resistant as the Farrells are bound to be, but it’s certainly a scenario that has played out in some form or another in numerous areas of the country.

I find little to complain about this show. WGN America is getting a reputation of shining a spotlight into dark corners of American culture and doing it well, and OUTSIDERS is a part of that proud tradition. It won’t appeal to everyone, to be sure, but it makes for good, quality television that many will enjoy if they just know where to look for it, WGN America not being a channel the majority of viewers typically keep an eye on. I recommend making the effort to check this one out.

OUTSIDERS airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on WGN America. If you missed the first episode, it repeats numerous times throughout the week. Check your listings.