Oregon standoff makes WGN America’s ‘tribal’ drama ‘Outsiders’ especially timely

Posted at 6:41 AM, Jan 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-08 06:41:34-05

"Everybody in this world is, on some level, an outsider."

Sometimes life imitates art, and with WGN America's upcoming drama "Outsiders," those events that transpire on the screen may seem similar to the current real world drama unfolding in southeastern Oregon.

Following the story of the standoff between the Farrells, an off-the-grid family residing in the Appalachian hills and the mining company that wishes to evict them, the program's plot feels like a mirror for the issues currently unfolding between law enforcement and the protesters who took over a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

RELATED: ‘Ged-Gedyah!’ WGN America prepares for battle with ‘Outsiders’

Forbes has an exclusive inside look at the upcoming series, which stars David Morse, Ryan Hurst, Gillian Alexy, Joe Anderson, and Thomas M. Wright. The similarities between the real life and fictional dramas are hard to ignore, as both involve issues with land use, conflicts with authority, and a well stocked arsenal.

Peter Mattei ("Love in the Time of Money," "Clarissa Explains It All"), the creator, writer, and executive producer of the series, acknowledges these similarities, telling Forbes, "There are lots of interesting parallels going on right now." It's worth noting, however, that the concept for the series came to Mattei roughly two years ago.

Executive producer Peter Tolan ("Rescue Me," "The Jim Gaffigan Show"), points to Mattei's screenplay as the reason he came aboard the project: "The script is really the most compelling thing that I've read in years. This is a really interesting world, interesting characters ... anything goes!"

As for the show's location, the Appalachia region was a no-brainer. "It made sense to set the show in Appalachia, because mountaintop removal would be a strong reason why people would be kicked off the top of a mountain," Mattei explains.

Executive producer Paul Giamatti ("John Adams," "Sideways") chimes in, "The Farrells are trying to protect their way of life. They live this kind of slightly medieval lifestyle. Everybody's crossing lines, breaking boundary ... that's a really intense thing!"

"The Farrells are kind of a hillbilly gypsy clan; they play by their own rules," Mattei says. "Almost completely without electricity, certainly without any technology at all. There's a real beauty to their civilization but they're also very brutal and rough."

What happens when this beautiful but brutal lifestyle comes head to head with those who wish to evict locals? Series star Ryan Hurst ("Sons of Anarchy," "Bates Motel") gives a few hints: "Fans can expect lots of sex, lots of violence, a little bit of cops and robbers."

The star smiles while delivering those tidbits, but make no mistake, there are definitely high stakes involved in the series. "Everybody is striving for some sense of freedom, and everybody is feeling like somebody is denying them that freedom," explains Mattei.

"Outsiders" is just the latest series to join WGN America’s growing slate of original programming, "Salem," "Manhattan" and the John Legend-produced "Underground."

"Outsiders" will premiere Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on WGN America.