Harlan Hobbits vs Big Coal

WGN just cancelled Manhattan after 2 seasons, but is far from pulling out of the serious drama game. Outsiders, their homemade brew of Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Max and The Shire, however, is not going to win them any awards. The pilot episode ‘Farrell Wine’ is mildly entertaining and even a bit pretentious.

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Big & Little
No quality drama series without a big name at the heart of it. House of Cards got Kevin Spacey, The Man in the High Castle Rufus Sewell, Bosch Titus Welliver, Hand of God Ron Perlman, True Detective Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, Fargo Kirstin Dunst and Ted Danson, Game of Thrones Sean Bean, American Crime Story John Travolta. To name only a few, of course. Outsiders got David Morse (Treme, House MD, The Green Mile) and fan favorite Ryan Hurst (Opie on Sons of Anarchy). Their characters, Big Foster and Little Foster, are part of the Farrells. Mountain folk. Cut off from the rest of the world, brewing their own moonshine, marrying their own cousins. And believing in ‘the prophecy’.

The Rule
The only contact they have with the outside world, is when they do so-called ‘runs’. Either by car (they do have a car) or by quad (yes, they have those, too), they drive into the nearest town, grab what they need and off they go again. People just let it happen. It doesn’t happen too often, besides, these Hobbits from Hell are dangerous. Even the local police are scared of them. Officer Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright, The Bridge) has a yet undisclosed history with the Farrells, and even covers up whatever crimes he can, just to avoid going up the mountain to ask them some questions. The rule is: they don’t come down, we don’t come up. Seems to me that the first part is not quite respected as well as the last part.

Relocation
Believe it or not, this has been going on for years and everybody’s okay with it. But times have changed and Big Coal has laid its eyes on the mountain. There’s money to be made, jobs to be created, so the Farrell Clan has to go. ‘Relocate’. Step 1 is bringing them an eviction notice, stapled on a tree; it’s easier to arrange a sitdown with Hillary Clinton than to talk face to face with these dirty, smelly tree huggers. They’re not likeable people. You’d assume the show would take their side, but about everything we see them do, is despicable. David Morse definitely doesn’t play the hero in this story. Big Foster’s a man who can’t wait to be in control. Lead. It’s only a matter of time before Lady Ray Farrell (Phyllis Somerville, The Big C) steps down from her wooden throne and he can do what he wants, basically.

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Predictable
Unfortunately for him, Lady Ray sees signs of the Prophecy coming true. It’s not time for her to hand over the crown just yet. In a somewhat predictable turn of events, Big Foster kills her. By hand. Like, holding his hand over her nose and mouth, which apparently does the trick. Because of the eviction notice, they’re going to need to defend themselves. In other words: they need guns. They know a guy who knows a guy who told them about somebody with a large gun collection. Big Foster makes another ‘run’ downhill, with his buddies and his young boy, who – another predictable plot twist – hides in the back of their pickup truck. Things go wrong. The neighbors come out with guns blazing. They escape, but Big’s son is shot dead.

The Hero
This seems like a bunch of unsympathetic neanderthals are causing trouble in a small town, and yes, that is in a nutshell what the series Outsiders is. In order to root for the mountain folk in spite of everything, a hero character’s put into place: Asa (Joe Anderson, Hannibal, The River). A Farrell Clan deserter, if you will, who got a taste of the outside world, but came back. Big Foster has already tried to shoot him, so we know this is the guy we should be identifying with. It’s all a bit too much on the nose, and the premise isn’t quite exciting, so I’m afraid WGN has to go look for a new quality drama script (and big movie star) to invest in.

Xander Berkeley, post-George Mason

Some actors have the luck (or curse) to play an unforgettable character on a popular television show. Luck, because certainly not every actor gets the chance to shine on screen. Curse, because although it’s a career divining part, it’s hard to get away from the role. Its shadow keeps looming over you.

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Pre-George Mason
The public’s yearn for a reprise remains, even though the character died, or the show was cancelled. So they’re hoping for a new part, in another series, that’s similar to the one they love to see again. Xander Berkeley’s claim to fame was George Mason, CTU director in 24.
At that point – 2003 – he could look back on a big career already. From the early eighties, he starred in M*A*S*H, The Incredible Hulk, V, The A-Team, Miami Vice, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, A Few Good Men, The X-Files, Heat, Meat Loaf’s music video for I’d Lie for You and That’s the Truth, Gattaca, Amistad, ER, and much, much more. However, when he stepped into the cynical shoes of George Mason and suffered from radiation poisoning, the audience finally embraced him.

Post-George Mason I
Something strange happens after you’ve played an iconic role. You’d think he’d be typecast, that other series would love to bring George Mason aboard, that writer rooms would create a cynical character especially for him, but no. It seems like no one wants to burn their fingers. For whatever reason, iconic roles are toxic. One explanation is, his appearance would attract too much attention. His Masonic status would overshadow the rest of the cast, which is not something you’d want from a guest role.
The only series who dared, was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, that gave him the part of Sheriff Rory Atwater. Because of the writing, even Al Pacino would’ve turned into an Al Pacino cardboard cutout on that show. CSI is tapping its screenplays and dialogues from the same source as Star Wars. It’s formulaic, with no room for personality. It’s actually not that uncommon. In book thrillers the characters are also inferior to the action.

Post-George Mason II
He’d earned a starring role in a series, no doubt. No one would give it to him, though. He did his animation voice work, a guest role here and there, until he got one of the leading roles in Day One, a science fiction/alien series which would air on NBC. Unfortunately, it was the year of a television science fiction meltdown. The reboot of V didn’t perform as expected, neither did FlashForward. NBC lost all hope Day One would do any better, played with the idea of airing it as a TV movie, but ultimately buried it in the ‘not gonna see the light of day’ archive section.
Berkeley did manage to crawl out from underneath the boot of George Mason, when he got a job on The CW’s Nikita. Then came the Canadian mystery show The Booth at the End, Syfy’s Being Human, The Mentalist, Justified, WGN’s Salem and Syfy’s 12 Monkeys. He’s finally back in spotlight territory. Time for that starring role.