Promising stories fall short at The Ranch

"Do you even binge watch, bro?"

I finally submitted to the modern day of watching shows when I went on a three-season, four-day binge of The Ranch.

Normally I'm a big proponent of watching television shows the old-fashioned way: One episode at a time with an ample period of waiting in between.

That's stretching the truth. A few Saturdays ago the great 90's hit ER played on my television for close to eight hours, including a gut-wrenching episode involving Carter (Noah Wyle) and Lucy (Kellie Martin).

When it comes to shows on Netflix, I'm usually a 2-3 episode a week kind of guy.

The Ranch turned out to be much different. This was not due to the fact the show is overtly entertaining. It just was...on. And I let it play.

The worst part? There's actually a great show that occasionally bubbles up to the surface when it's not playing to sophomoric humor.

The Rundown

The Rundown sure was an entertaining movie, wasn't it? I mean, Dwayne Johnson really bursts onto the scene and--

Oh, right. 

According to IMDB, here is a brief plot description of The Ranch: "The son of a Colorado rancher returns home from a semi-pro football career to run the family business."

The son is Colt Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), who doesn't come home to run the family business, per se. He turns down a spot on the local semi-pro team to help work on the ranch, run by his father Beau (Sam Elliott) and brother Rooster (Danny Masterson).

It's painting too broad of a brush to say Kutcher and Masterson are simply extensions of the characters they played on That 70's Show. It is easy to imagine this if you were hopelessly devoted to their previous endeavor, but they do go a bit further with character exploration when needed.

They live in the town of Garrison, Colorado. In the opening credits, a sign notes the population is 524 (or somewhere near that). And much of the plot revolves around the fact that this town is really, really small.

Through in a few curse words, some nudity, and you essentially have the same type of humor Kutcher was part of during his time on Two and a Half Men.

Which makes sense, because the creators of The Ranch are Jim Patterson and Don Reo, two alumni of the previous show.

Now, in a small town, it makes sense there is only one bar. And even in a population that size, I can get behind the fact there is a Dairy Queen.

But then there is a Cracker Barrel. A Chili's, I think. I remember wondering how close they were to the next major city--and it might have been said in the show--because it's written to seem all of these establishments plus more are in Garrison.

I get that with no commercials involved on Netflix shows, certain money from advertisers has to be written in but there isn't enough substance in the plot to keep me from wondering how the city was still so small with all of these name brands. (Speaking of which, for taking place in Colorado, I don't remember this fictional town drinking any Coors products until the third season. Could they not work out a deal before then?)

Minor grievances. The show is not a straight comedy, though at times it resorts to normal episodic comedy troupes. A mix of drama drives much of the action, but it leaves a lot of potential sitting at the table while played for cheap laughs.

A Sam Shepard play in waiting

Pick out a Sam Shepard play and you'll usually find themes of sibling rivalry, family secrets, divorce, alcoholism, facing mortality, unwanted pregnancies and much, much more.

The Ranch has a taste of all of these.

Even the location of being set on a ranch in the west might be something straight out of a Shepard play.

And of course, there's Sam Elliott.

As the family patriarch, Elliott helps bring the western motif to light. He's a hard-working man, up before dawn and working until after dusk. He eats dinner at 6 p.m. And he loves Ronald Reagan.

We also see a stubborn man adjusting to a life around him that keeps moving forward. While he doesn't often fall into this trap, we see nice moments, like him slipping on Kutcher's Uggs (Kutcher carries a lot of metrosexual traits and tendencies) and enjoying the comfort.

And the raw emotions of the scenes when he finds out his wife (Debra Winger)--who also owns the one bar in town--has skipped town and immediately follow give a range of acting desperately needed in this show.

A collection of veteran actors make guest appearances or are recurring characters: Elisha Cuthbert, Martin Mull, Kathy Baker, Barry Corbin, and Ethan Suplee are among them. Through in a few friends from That 70's Show (Wilmer Valderrama, Debra Jo Rupp, and Bret Harrison) and you have enough talent to make the series at the very least watchable.

In the end, though, through three seasons I've been simply left wanting more and, if we were lucky, a spinoff starring Elliott and Winger. 

One can dream.


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