Outer Range: Season 1 Review

Outer Range premieres two new episodes every week starting Friday, April 15, 2022, on Prime Video.

For 30 years, showrunners inspired by Twin Peaks have tried to reproduce that show’s particular mix of small-town drama with supernatural surrealism in just about every genre out there with mostly terrible results. But how about a western? Outer Range is a brand-new drama from creator Brian Watkins, who attempts to marry the weirdness of David Lynch’s classic series with a contemporary western. That unusual mash-up of genres at least pings the interest meter more than most. And for three episodes, Outer Range lives up to its potential as a moody, metaphysical thriller that intriguingly pits two ranch families against one another when a series of mysterious occurrences happen on their land. Unfortunately, the tale loses its coherence, pacing, and interest halfway through its eight-episode first season.

Josh Brolin is Royal Abbott, the patriarch of a family who have raised cattle on a vast section of Wyoming land for generations. Just across their fence line lives Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton) and his brood of three sons who collectively make up the weirdo jerks of the local town. Both families exist at least cordially near one another until a clearly doctored land assessment says the Abbotts owe the Tillerson’s 600 acres from their western acres. From there, the troop of the local families at war kicks in as the backdrop for all the other oddities that will fill eight episodes.

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If you love shows like Yellowstone or Big Sky, there’s plenty of soapy stories here too, from a murder to a rekindled romance, a missing person case, and even a crisis of faith story to keep you plugged into the more mundane elements of Outer Range . None of those arcs are particularly novel in their telling or execution, but they tick all the small-town intrigue boxes, just with some extra bull riding to add flavor.

Where the show initially works best is when it allows itself to be strange and enigmatic. That comes across best in the first three episodes – “The Void,” “The Land,” and “The Time” – which lay the groundwork for a cluster of strange occurrences happening on the Abbott ranch that especially seem to be beckoning Royal. As he rides the perimeter of his land from him, odd god trumpet sounds emanate out of nowhere, almost herding him towards a specific tract of land to a hole unlike any other. Setting a grand mood for the strangeness unfolding, director Alonso Ruizpalacios, his cinematographer, and his camera team use a mix of in-camera techniques like rack focus and depth of field gauziness to beautifully capture the disquietude of both the land’s secrets and Royal’s discomfort with it all. The series is also filmed with a color palette that radiates a soft melancholy that permeates everything surrounding the Abbott’s, which adds a visual richness to the whole endeavor.

The other most disturbing interlocutor of the piece is Autumn River (Imogen Poots), a young woman hiking alone who just appears at the Abbott Ranch asking Royal permission to camp on his land. For some reason he agrees, and the regret is immediate. She’s clearly too interested in the land and the Abbott family and insinuates herself into the lives of every member of the clan, from distrustful matriarch Cecilia (Lili Taylor), to their son’s, Perry (Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman), and Perry’s young daughter, Amy (Olive Abercrombie). In the first half of the season, Poots gives a wild-eyed but compelling performance as the mysterious but persistent Autumn. She is a mystery worth puzzling out until her story of her turns unhinged to the point of ridiculousness in a way that’s extremely disappointing.

The series’ biggest sin is how ponderous it gets after the first three episodes. At the start, Watkins and his writers establish a winning tone and pace that includes necessary yet enigmatic reveals, and some excellent cliffhangers. There’s also some scintillatingly good monologues, like atheist Royal’s version of a dinner prayer that ranks as one of the funniest and angriest this ex-Catholic has ever heard. But all of that promise starts to fall away by Episode 4, “The Loss.” What comes after dips way too much into the lukewarm personal stories of the various families. However, kudos to Will Patton, who is clearly having the most fun in the cast as the extremely bizarre Tillerson patriarch who has an obsession with something he knows is only accessible on the Abbott land, and will stop at nothing to get it even as his own health crumbles. But his antics of him become few and far between the deeper the series gets without much of a payoff. However, Noah Reid, as his songbird son Billy, does pick up the slack with his strange musical interludes that get more and more tedious. Why he needs to sing in every episode is perhaps the show’s greatest mystery.

Outer Range disappoints because it starts on such a strong foot.

Outer Range disappoints because it starts on such a strong foot, mixing mood, technique, and mystery in the right amounts. But that dissipates as the episodes mount, maybe to service the concrete stories too much, or maybe the eight-episode count (of which many often exceed 50-minute runtimes) is just too many to keep the storytelling tight and focused. Yet strangely, the big reveals that are dangled within the season are meted out so sparsely that the season finale doesn’t feel weighty enough with answers to earn much excitement.

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