You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Outsiders’

David Morse, Thomas M. Wright, Ryan Hurst, Joe Anderson, Gillian Alexy, Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson, Francie Swift, Phyllis Somerville

WGN America is still seeking to define itself, having garnered acclaim for “Manhattan,” if less for “Salem.” With “Outsiders,” its newest drama, the Tribune programmer zeroes in on FX Lite territory, in an Appalachian-set series peppered with hints of “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified,” and perhaps a pinch of “Mad Max” for good measure. Featuring David Morse and Thomas M. Wright (again terrific after his turn in “The Bridge”), the casting trumps much of the material, but the series quickly establishes a strong sense of place in the wilds of a still-untamed pocket of America.

At the center of it all are the Farrells, a rural clan that lives by its own brutal code and traditions, ensconced on the mountain it has occupied for 200 years. The group exists under what amounts to an uneasy truce with the townsfolk below, with members occasionally venturing down to thieve some necessary supplies, but otherwise minding their own business.

Enter, predictably, a corporate bad guy in Big Coal: A mining group is determined to evict the family – a plan that draws an uneasy rebuke from the local sheriff, Wright’s Wade Houghton, who has an unspecified history with the Farrells that prompts him to warn, “You do not want to mess with these people.”

Still, the politics in town are mirrored (again, predictably) by infighting on the mountain, which includes the return of the prodigal son, Asa (Joe Anderson), who has spent time living in the modern world and now wants to help his kin hold off the interlopers. None of that sits particularly well with Big Foster (Morse), the ostensible heir to tribal leadership, who chafes at waiting for his imperious mother (Phyllis Somerville) to step aside. General decor looks to be right out of “Deliverance” (production took place in Pennsylvania), but the biggest kudos go to the hairstyling department for coiffing what might be shaggiest series in recent memory.

Created by playwright-novelist Peter Mattei, working with “Rescue Me” veteran Peter Tolan, the show features too many situations that have a ring of familiarity, such as the triangle created by Asa’s return with his ex, G’Winveer (Gilllian Alexy), and Lil Foster (“Sons of Anarchy’s” Ryan Hurst), Big Foster’s bruising boy. Ditto for a subplot involving Hasil (Kyle Gallner), who becomes infatuated with a shy townie (Christina Jackson), to the point of selling moonshine to get his hands on money – a commodity for which the Farrells have no use.

Outsiders” is slow going in its opening chapters, and the best hope for the 13-episode run is that the series does generally improve as it progresses, by the fourth and fifth episodes finding moments of dark humor, while hostilities between the corporate interests and the family gradually escalate. Although Morse is compelling as always – boozing, scheming and defiant by turns – the real standout is Wright as the stammering, weary sheriff, perhaps the most conflicted rural lawman since “One False Move.”

Whether any of that adds up to a sizable audience on a fledgling original-programming enterprise like WGN is anybody’s guess. From a conceptual standpoint, in fact, prospects might be better for “Underground,” another drama coming soon.

Still, “Outsiders” has at least delivered some extremely solid characters. And in the series game, if not the mining one, unearthing a few of those nuggets can be half the battle.

TV Review: 'Outsiders'

(Series; WGN America, Tues. Jan. 26, 9 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Pennsylvania by Famous Horses, Fedora Entertainment and Touchy Feely Films in association with Tribune Studios and Sony Pictures Television.

Crew: Executive producers, Peter Mattei, Peter Tolan, Michael Wimer, Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey; director, Adam Bernstein; co-executive producers, William Schmidt, Sara Goodman; supervising producer, Ryan Farley; producer, Larry Rapaport; writer, Mattei; camera, Jaime Reynoso; production designer, Jonathan Carlson. 60 MIN.

Cast: David Morse, Thomas M. Wright, Ryan Hurst, Joe Anderson, Gillian Alexy, Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson, Francie Swift, Phyllis Somerville

More TV

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in a Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Josh Cooke Castle Rock

    Josh Cooke Joins Katey Sagal in ABC Comedy Pilot 'Nana'

    Josh Cooke has been cast in a lead role in the ABC hybrid comedy pilot “Nana” opposite Katey Sagal, Variety has learned. Cooke will play Alex, a fire chief in Indianapolis who is a newly widowed single father of two girls. It’s clear that he is in over his head with the girls, but he [...]

  • Maggie Lawson

    Maggie Lawson to Star in Fox Comedy Pilot 'Geniuses'

    Maggie Lawson has been cast in one of the lead roles of the Fox multi-camera comedy pilot “Geniuses,” Variety has learned. The pilot follows a blue-collar couple in South Jersey trying to get by and raise four kids, three of whom just happen to be certified geniuses. Lon Zimmet will write and executive produce. Lawson will [...]

  • Elizabeth Anweis

    'Batwoman' Pilot Adds Elizabeth Anweis as Catherine Hamilton-Kane

    The CW’s “Batwoman” pilot has cast Elizabeth Anweis, Variety has learned. Anweis will play Catherine Hamilton-Kane, the stepmother of Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman. Catherine made her fortune as a savvy, bullheaded defense contractor, and all those billions position Catherine as one of Gotham’s most powerful residents. For Catherine, it’s a matter of the bottom line: Batwoman [...]

  • Actors With Disabilities Deserve a Hollywood

    Dreaming of a Hollywood Ending for Actors With Disabilities (Guest Column)

    Picture a world in which an actor with a disability wins an Academy Award. Sadly, that storyline remains no more than a Hollywood fantasy. In recent years, the #OscarsSoWhite trending hashtag campaign has shed light on the lack of diversity in the movie industry. Yet ahead of this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24, society’s definition [...]

  • Clark Gable III

    Clark Gable's Grandson, Who Hosted 'Cheaters,' Found Dead at 30

    Clark Gable’s grandson, Clark Gable III, died on Friday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Variety confirmed with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was 30. “It’s is with an extremely heavy heart we say goodbye to my beautiful son Clark,” his mother wrote on Instagram. “He passed this morning. I will always [...]

  • Amber Stevens West Keir Gilchrist Ben

    ATX Television Festival Adds 'Greek' Reunion, 'Atypical,' 'Perpetual Grace Ltd' to Lineup

    The eighth annual ATX Television Festival has added a “Greek” reunion and panels for Netflix’s “Atypical” and Epix’s “Perpetual Grace, Ltd” to its lineup. The former ABC Family dramedy “Greek” ran from 2007-2011 centering on a college freshman who wanted to change his image in college and therefore started a fraternity. Currently, the reunion panel [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content