The genre mashing of sci-fi and westerns is nothing new to the pop-culture-sphere. Movies like Cowboys and Aliens, to more recently in the overwhelming success of The Mandalorian, have shown that when done correctly, the combination of these wildly different atmospheres and tones can create entertaining stories. Entering this genre concoction is Prime Video’s new original series, Outer Range, a sci-fi-western on the surface that soon becomes a mystery-thriller that is full of so much weirdness, it feels as if it’s going down the path of becoming the new Lost.
Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin) is a mild-mannered rancher in the wilderness of Wyoming, taking care of and living on an abundantly sized property. Royal’s wife, Cecilia (Lily Taylor) and his two sons, Perry (Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman) live humble lives together as a family unit on the ranch. Their livelihood and land are soon threatened by Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton), an incredibly wealthy man on the properly next to Royal’s. Wayne makes an offer to Royal for 600 acres of his ranch, a proposal put forward by Wayne through his own sons. With the offer weighing heavily on Royal’s mind, a new arrival on his land in the form of hippie-drifter Autumn (Imogen Poots) soon adds more distress to his life when strange supernatural events begin occurring, leading Royal to discover a giant, perfectly symmetrical, bottomless hole in the middle of a field on his land – a void that may be a portal leading elsewhere.
It doesn’t take long for Outer Range to propel its story and the audience into the head-scratching intrigue – well before Royal even discovers the giant void on his ranch! Time moving differently for some, wild buffalo appearing out of nowhere and telekinetic message from taxidermized animals are sprinkled in during the shows early stages of exposition and character development. Understanding the show can’t just rely on the oddities of sci-fi alone, creator Brian Watkins has constructed a world that feels very akin to the overly dramatized world of Yellowstone. It’s hard not to compare both of these shows on the level of the western drama.
The more realistic aspect of the story does feel like the filler required to fill a season with enough content to justify 8 one-hour long episodes. Outside of the relationship between Royal and Autumn, which is a slowly burning development initially before an incredibly shocking event ramps up the intensity of their interaction, every other character feels like surface-level boxes being ticked. There’s the son who wants to become a rodeo champion, the land rights war between two farms, the wife who just wants to make sure her family gets to church on time – most of the characters seem to serve no real purpose to the story… until they need to serve a purpose to the weirdness.
There’s no denying that Outer Range is strange, and it’s intentionally trying to be just that. In fact, it feels like the show is relying a tad too much on its weird moments, visuals, and ideas to be an engaging show. The intrigue that is built in those moments will bring people back each week, hoping to unravel or even solve the cosmic mystery behind the void and how it affects the characters within the show, but there’s this uneasy feeling that overarches the intrigue that could lead to the shows detriment. Shows that have come before it like Lost or The Leftovers have also attempted the mystery building tactic of “weird now, answers later”, and unfortunately, they left it too late to feel like any meaningful conclusion was reached. Although there is still six episodes of Outer Range to go, the sheer amount of mystery that has already been built up in two episodes bears the thought that it could be leading down a similar path.
Carrying the show on their shoulders is Josh Brolin and Imogen Poots, who have great tension filled chemistry together as two people who aren’t necessarily at odds, but who don’t understand each other and their separate motives as of yet. Their dynamic provides drama that is worth investing in, with solid performances in the first two episodes.
For those looking for a sci-fi fix like Lost, mixed with a little of the melodrama of Yellowstone may find some enjoyment in Outer Range. However, it’s entirely possible that the shows surface level focus on the weird and odd may be its downfall as the story gets more convoluted as it goes on.
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