In the now vast collection of Netflix original programming, The Ranch is a noticeably different kind of show. It’s a sitcom, sure, but it doesn’t take place in a big city, it’s profane and filthy, and it shifts between raunchy family comedy and intense melodrama at the drop of a hat. The show takes place on the ranch of Beau Bennet (Sam Elliot) who runs it with his son Rooster (Danny Masterson). Our pilot begins with the homecoming of Colt (Ashton Kutcher), Beau’s other son who is a semi-pro football player. But the two men have long held animosity and hurt feelings that are going to make it difficult for the two of them to get along.
Here are some thoughts.
1. I can’t tell how much of this is tongue in cheek
The opening credits feature a montage of various, uh, rural imagery with a country song playing over it. At one point, a slow motion American flag waves the image of a pick-up truck. Now, I can’t tell if this is supposed to be an earnest attempt to appeal to the middle of the country, or if it’s making fun of that aesthetic, or if it’s both. I will tell you this: it’s intriguing.
2. God damn it, studio audience
For the love of God, I will never understand why producers continue to decide to use studio audiences for new sitcoms. It’s a fixture of a different era, and it’s incredibly irritating. Although I will admit, The Ranch makes better use of it than any other modern show I’ve seen.
3. Sam Elliot is of course delightful
I don’t think anybody would have guessed otherwise, but Sam Elliot is a total delight as the curmudgeonly Beau Bennet. He’s not phoning it in for this one. He seems deeply committed to the set-up and to the character. It’s a more vulnerable Elliot than we’re used to, and that’s a good thing.
Colt comes home wearing Ugg boots, giving Sam Elliot to deliver the first truly funny moment on the show: “What the fuck is on your feet, boy?” Later, his mom asks the same question. It’s an example of the benefit of having a show on Netflix. In a cleaned up sitcom, the “fuck” in that phrase would be done away with, taking away the punch of the joke. Somehow with the added profanity, the joke feels fresh and surprising.
5. This is bizarre
I can truly say that this show is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Everything from the cursing, to the lighting, to the weirdness of seeing Masterson and Kutcher back together on a multi-cam sitcom (the last time was That 70’s Show).
6. I have never seen a cow birth on television
That’s right. Just as Colt is about to get busy with a lady, his dad comes in to tell him he has to help him midwife a calf. And the show doesn’t pull any punches. It shows Kutcher thrusting his arm elbow deep into this cow and pulling out the calf. Then, when it appears stillborn, he gives it CPR to bring it back to life. It’s a truly surprising moment on a show that at first glance would seem totally familiar.
7. The set up is familiar, but the execution is novel
Like I said, familiar set-up. But everything about this show diverts expectations away from the usual sitcom format. It’s kind of thrilling to watch something so aesthetically similar to, say, Fuller House be something so entirely different.
8. The performances are good all around
The central performances of Kutcher, Elliot and Masterson are all top notch, avoiding obvious cliches for nuance and pathos. It’s a treat to see them all doing so well.
9. This show shouldn’t work
It really shouldn’t. But somehow it’s compelling and interesting and fresh.
10. I’m excited to see where this goes
If the pilot is any indication, we’re going to be in for one of the most interesting seasons of television this year.
+Excellent execution and concept
+Great twist on sitcom premise
–Unclear social commentary
Tags: Ashton Kutcher, danny masterson, Netflix, Netflix Original, sam elliot, the ranch