Amazon Prime’s OUTER RANGE, a New West drama with sci-fi elements, promised a new favorite show for me, and at first it delivers, only it quickly evolves into a sprawling soap opera that alternates between taking itself too seriously and not seriously at all.
Here’s the setup: At a family ranch in Wyoming, family patriarch and man of the earth Royal (the great Josh Brolin) lives with his wife (Lili Taylor), two sons, and granddaughter. The family feels the pain of Rebecca, one of the son’s wives and mom to the granddaughter, being missing for some months. An odd young woman (Imogen Poots) arrives and pays to camp out on the land. The neighboring ranching family, the Tillersons, are a bunch of spoiled rich people led by a patriarch (Will Patton) who has perverse lusts. A murder threatens to upend the order of things, driving most of the plot, as well as the appearance on Royal’s land of an impossible hole in the ground, filled with smoke, which appears to be some kind of portal, possibly through time.
There’s plenty to work with here. Beautiful scenery, terrific actors, good sound design, the tension between the ranching clans, the culture and contradictions of the New West, and a solid cosmic mystery that threatens the suffering of awareness of human insignificance. The ending pays off with a dramatic event and several powerful reveals. The show has been compared to LOST, though to me it was more a cross between FORTITUDE and THE LEFTOVERS. From the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, it appears the show has resonated with a lot of people, who seem to love it.
Not this guy, unfortunately, though I was super excited for this one. The heavy drama has that feel where you can picture the writers saying, let’s have this happen, that would be cool, without it emerging organically from the story, resulting in a feeling of artifice or senselessness for me. Royal is articulate and smiling when he doesn’t need to be and mum and distant every time it matters, especially to his own family. His wife broods her way through the entire show with a good performance by Lili Taylor but zero influence on anything in the story. Nobody seems to know how to parent the poor granddaughter, who appears to be raising herself. The Tillersons don’t really play a significant part in the story, the same with the sheriff who promises to be interesting but is kinda boring and one note. Characters change motivations and sometimes personalities, such as one of Royal’s sons making an ultimately selfless decision only to follow it up with an ultimately selfish decision. The directors often put themselves into the show with heavy-handed zooms and other camera work. The New West stuff is laid on so thick it sometimes feels like a truck commercial. There’s an odd and seemingly tacked-on theme, touched on in voiced over narration from time to time, about God forsaking his creation, which sounds good but doesn’t fit.
In the end, it just didn’t work for me. I think the show’s makers should have picked one path–FORTITUDE, with its utterly wacky TWIN PEAKS drama and crime procedural with a bio-thriller element, or THE LEFTOVERS, with its dead serious, sad, brooding story about people psychologically suffering due to an impossible event that can’t be understood. By riding the line between the two, we have a show that deviates between taking itself very seriously and not taking itself seriously at all, thereby not really accomplishing either. They also should have tightened the story’s focus on the hole itself. Or something, I don’t know, anything that would make me care.
Still, while it didn’t connect for me and turned into a slog, the show has undeniable charms, it comes together at the end with some interesting payoffs, and there’s enough here that while it missed for me, it might hit for you. If you have Amazon Prime, I’d say it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re looking for something weird and nice to look at it, something that might turn out to be a viewing gem for you.