Review: The Outsiders 1×1 (US: WGN America)

Why has this been made?

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET, WGN America
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to America, I’m an outsider. I’m not from America, I’ve not lived in America and I have no American relatives. Sure, I’ve been to many parts of America, watched stupid amounts of American TV and movies, worked for an American company, got married in America, done American studies at (secondary) school and even had an I-visa that allowed me to stay and work in the US for up to five years if I’d wanted.

But none of that makes me American and it certainly doesn’t qualify me to understand why The Outsiders exists. 

In a way, I imagine liking The Outsiders is the US equivalent of someone English train-spotting or Morris dancing. These are quintessentially English things that even a lot of English people have trouble understanding, but which the rest of the world looks at as though the devotee in question should have an entire chapter of the DSM dedicated to them, and maybe the entire country itself should be sown with salt. Why on Earth would anyone do these things?

The Outsiders isn’t without antecedents, either. An everyday tale of an inbred family of Southeners, sticking by their own kind, obeying a stern family figure, living by their own rules, drinking moonshine, racing all over the place, breaking whatever laws they want while the cops try and fail to catch them? The Dukes of Hazzard was there first, obviously.

Even if you didn’t get any of the subtext about Southerners or know anything much about the US, the The Dukes of Hazzard‘s popularity wasn’t a real mystery, since you could still enjoy the car chases or whichever one of the Duke family you fancied the most.

But the existence of The Outsiders is as mystifying to me as the thematically similar Sons of Anarchy. I don’t get why you’d want to watch a show about a bunch of dirty, unattractive mountain men who go round stealing, poisoning, shooting people, lopping each others’ fingers off and suffocating their mothers in the name of family law. If this was The Dukes of Hazzard, I’d be on Boss Hogg’s side, and here I’m on the side of the sheriff (Thomas M Wright) and the FBI guys who want to evict the Family Chromosomeless from their mountain home in favour of the evil mining company who’ve just bought the land.

I can theorise it’s all about some nostalgia for the Wild West, for small government, for constitutional rights governing property, the need for a strong family, et al. Maybe it’s because the Duck Dynasty guys are better fictionalised than in reality. But if to get a strong family you need to stick one of your members in a cage for a few weeks for the crime of having ‘gone travelling’, maybe a strong family isn’t worth it, and things like medicine, proper plumbing and shaving are much better ideas?

To be fair to the show, The Outsiders is about as smart a drama as you can make about a family of 200 or so cousins, only one of whose members can read. Compared to the bigots you might have been imagining, the ‘Ferrells’ are actually something rather different, accepting of black and trans women alike. Their strange family society, which has evolved over 200 years to shun money and has its own royal family, complete with codes of etiquette, is intriguing, too.

But The Outsiders is still about a bunch of people who’ll ride quad bikes into a supermarket and steal what they want with impunity, because they know no one’s coming after them. Are they the equivalent of The Krays? Are they Kentucky ‘legends’? Or are they the equivalent of ‘travellers‘ in the UK? Is, as one of the cast describes it, ‘Mad Max meets Little House On The Prairie‘ a good thing in US terms or a bad thing?

I just don’t know. And maybe you have to be American to truly know if The Outsiders is a good or a bad programme. But given how many Australians there are in the cast, maybe not. So I’ll go with bad.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.