Netflix recently debuted a brand new traditionally produced sit-com series that is sitting pretty with a 4 1/2 star rating from their subscribers. Having recently finished watching this first season’s ten episodes, here are three things the series gets right:
1. Ashton Kutcher is front and center.
Ashton Kutcher stars as Colt Bennett, a washed-up college football QB, who is forced to move back home to the ranch he grew up on with his never-satisfied father, Beau (the great Sam Elliot), and smart-mouthed brother “Rooster” (Kutcher’s former That 70’s Show co-star Danny Masterson.) Mom, Maggie (Debra Winger) is living in her own Airstream behind the bar she owns due to her estranged relationship to husband Beau.
Ever since he debuted on That 70’s Show in the late 90s, Ashton Kutcher has proven himself to be a natural comedic actor with leading man looks. In television land, this is hard to come by. He’s maintained relevancy in pop-culture ever since we were introduced to him with stints like MTV’s Punk’d, a bunch of hit (and miss) feature films, as a successful venture capitalist and angel investor (AirBnB, Foursquare), stepping back into TV and into Charlie “Tiger’s Blood” Sheen’s shoes on Two & a Half Men, and bringing it full circle with this second outing co-starring to his former 70’s Show co-star Masterson. Through it all he’s been married to Demi Moore and now is married-with-children with another former 70’s co-star, Mila Kunis, yet somehow has seemingly maintained humility and stayed true to Chris.
While Ashton is clearly the lead of the show, Masterson, Elliott, the re-emerged Winger (Urban Cowboy) as Beau’s estranged wife, and Elisha Cuthbert (Kim “Kidnapped” Bauer from 24) as Colt’s corn-fed country-girl former high school sweetheart, round a solid cast. The first few episodes take minute for everyone to gel, but once you know everyone and it feels like they know everyone, it’s a welcome sight when any one of them pops on screen with Kutcher who brings chemistry to each interaction. The biggest surprise comes from the amount of depth that begins to percolate as the these honest familial relationships start to surface. Sam Elliott and Debra Winger have both had long careers filled with terrific dramatic performances, that cache helps bring balance to what could easily have been a Duck Dynasty style sitcom. (I contend Duck Dynasty masquerades more as a reality show, when in reality it’s more situation comedy without the acting talent.)
2. Hard work is also front and center
The sentiments about hard work expressed in that video from the Teen Choice Awards behind the link above, are clearly on display here in The Ranch. Western movie icon Sam Elliott is Beau Bennett, the patriarch, backbone and iron fist of the family and their working cattle ranch. Like every old cowboy out there, Beau is set in his ways. And if you aren’t set in his ways too, then you better enjoy the cold steely-eyed glares he omits that will otherwise pierce your skull.
The Bennett ranch has fallen on hard times due to economic and environmental conditions, both of which Beau has no problem blaming the Obama administration for. As the series clicks along though, even a bad EPA caused disaster , one not unlike this one, ironically promises to bring relief to the Bennett ranch. But it’s the dedication and work ethic that keeps Beau on Rooster’s and Colt’s ass. Forcing them to stick together and fighting for scraps.
The series is not ashamed about the professional lifestyle of working the land, working from dawn till (long past) dusk, and making hard decisions. There is also no backing down from embracing a cultural lifestyle of the modern day west – a lifestyle that includes duck hunting, sports, men chasing girls, women chasing boys, hard drinking, a little weed (remember this is Colorado) and still living within your means.
3. “What the fuck’s on your feet?
The above is a quote directly from episode one. Make no mistake, this is a sit-com. The Ranch is shot in the traditional three-camera set-up, first used by Desilu Productions for I Love Lucy, in a time when you couldn’t say the word pregnant on the air – and is filmed in front of a live studio audience. Which makes the use of language-not-suitable-for-broadcast-network-TV jump right off the screen. The first utterances of the f-word, or the s-word, a-word and d-word kinda take you by surprise. But their perfectly timed occurrences, and sparse use help elevate this goofy series to a more realistic look inside a family that’s as goofy as our own. Along with the free use of language in this self imposed TV-MA rated series, is the free use of well-toned bodies and predicaments that while at times still feel slapsticky, come across just as natural and thus more entertaining than what you may find over on Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO.
Obviously not being on network television allows for the dismissal of any censorship concerns, but The Ranch, thankfully, doesn’t overdo it. When Colt starts a sex-only relationship with Heather (Kelli Goss), a high school senior, the expectation may be that this “extreme” sit-com will also go the full monty. I’d say it pushes the envelope to a half monty and leaves the rest to your imagination, along with some help from the live audience hootin’ and hollerin’. I will admit, the occasional f-bombs and the PG-13 rendezvous help when they land in between the more traditional set-up and knock-down jokes that so often have turned me off of all recent sit-coms in the first place. While The Ranch fits that mold writing wise, the freedom the writers enjoy help a lot.
As the season progressed, the dynamics of the relationships presented in series became more complicated and interesting. Events and feelings that normally take seasons to develop were presented front and center which was actually quite refreshing in this genre. Netflix TV binge-watchers demand as much and The Ranch, I think took notice and delivered . By the final episode, I was left with exactly what the show creators had hoped for – wanting more. Netflix has already ordered up 10 more episodes which will premier later in the year.
photos: Netflix screengrabs
Here’s a trailer for season 1: