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‘Outsiders’ review: Hairy Kentucky mountain family’s depressing slog

David Morse as Big Foster in "Outsiders."

David Morse as Big Foster in "Outsiders." Credit: WGN America

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WGN America


WHAT IT’S ABOUT The tight-knit and combative Farrell clan has lived on top of a Kentucky mountain for decades. Now, a coal company wants ‘em off. They’ll have to get by Big Foster (David Morse) first. Way down in town, deputy Sheriff Houghton (Thomas M. Wright) is charged with the unenviable task of alerting the Farrells of their eviction. Meanwhile, Asa (Joe Anderson), a prodigal son, returns to the Farrells’ mountain just as the standoff begins.

MY SAY Maybe late to this particular party, “Outsiders” still almost belongs to the subgenre that the web and lazy TV writers took to calling “redneck TV” when “Duck Dynasty” took off a few years ago. Viewers and (therefore) networks couldn’t get enough, and before long, we all got to know — maybe just a little too well — lady hoggers, swamp people and tow truck operators from Lizard Lick. Besides lots of hair, their protagonists shared a prickly spirit of independence and didn’t take too kindly to city folk or meddlesome government types.

“Outsiders” has far loftier ambitions than these reality sitcoms but most of the same elements, especially the hair part. Up there on that Kentucky mountain (actually, this was filmed in Pennsylvania), the Farrells roar around on their “quads,” swig moonshine and dare anyone to take their hilltop away from them. There are elements of “Sons of Anarchy” too — inescapable ones, especially when Ryan Hurst’s “Little Foster” comes on screen. He was Opie Winston on “SOA,” and looks exactly the same here, as if he were wandering between sets.

After “Salem” and “Manhattan,” “Outsiders” is next in line in WGN’s push to be taken seriously — big dramas exploring big American themes. (“Underground,” about slavery and the Civil War, arrives in March.)

The ambition’s an admirable one, and “Outsiders” clearly has ambitions. But what it doesn’t have is much of a story or all that much conviction in the one it’s telling. Moreover, who exactly are these Farrells, other than Hollywood prototypes of Kentucky hill people? Are they in any sense real human beings, or just clichés, or worse, casualties when the inevitable hot war breaks out? (Yup, there are not-too-distant echoes of “Justified” as well).

Most importantly, any reason to much care about the answers? After the first couple of episodes, none I could find.

BOTTOM LINE A depressing slog through the backwoods.

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