When Outsiders premieres on Tuesday night at 9 p.m., WGN America's latest original series will delve into the unique, mysterious lifestyle of a family that lives far removed from the outside world in the Appalachian mountains. Though the real setting may cause you to wonder if Outsiders is based on a true story (like History's similarly located Hatfields & McCoys), this series is totally fictional. However, the cast and creators reveal that they still did a lot of research to make the story as authentic as possible.
"Not real life inspiration as much as things that I’ve been interested in over the years, in alternative communities and alternative lifestyles," creator Peter Mattei says of Outsiders' origins. "And a lot of other issues having to do with economics and gentrification, and other things like that just sort of all came together in the story." Mattei also explains that he researched real groups to understand this sort of lifestyle, even though the Farrells aren't specifically based on any of them. "There is a group ... that live in the Ramapough mountains in New Jersey, actually, that have certain similarities. They’re much more integrated into their world, but I read something about them that was interesting … I read a lot about Amazon tribes and Native American cultures and things like that to try and understand how people live in a sort of clan-like world, apart from modernity."
The Farrells are a Scotch-Irish family living in Appalachia (Kentucky, to be specific), and Outsiders follows what happens to them when coal companies want their home for its resources. What really sets the family apart is that they live totally off the grid, far removed from the towns down the mountain. There is a certain air of mythology surrounding this community that seems out of place in the modern world, because that's exactly what the Farrells are.
That's not to say that there haven't been real communities "apart from modernity," so though Outsiders is fictional, the Farrells' lifestyle is not something out of the question or completely outlandish. You may even notice nods to the fact (which is often exaggerated to myth) that Appalachian settlers preserved Shakespearean/Elizabethan English for centuries.
As a Southerner, I'm biased, but I think Outsiders has selected a perfect setting for this type of story, and not just because we're all settling down from Hunger Games mania and could do with revisiting the coal-mining District 12 — which was filmed in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. Coal-mining communities have such a rich history and are often forgotten. "They’re very strong, tough people," says actress Christina Jackson, who plays Sally-Ann, a resident of a town near the Farrells' community, on the series. "I know they’re very close-knit, in a way."
Kyle Gallner, who plays Hasil Farrell, did some research of his own to understand the region that inspired the series. “There’s a great book series I found called Foxfire that’s all about the Appalachian region, and this teacher who created a newspaper for his students in school and they went through and asked their grandparents and great-grandparents about life in the mountains," he says. "And it’s all about how they lived and how they made everything and how they survived, so reading that was really helpful.”
While the actual plot the Farrells find themselves in on Outsiders emphasizes the freedoms it is granted as a fictional TV series, the cast and creator's own research and inspiration should add a richness and authenticity to the world they inhabit.
Image: WGN America