Starring: Josh Brolin, Imogen Poots, Lili Taylor, Will Patton, Lewis Pullman, Tamara Podemski, Tom Pelphrey
Mood: If your spouse or friend always guesses how every single movie and show is going to end from the first few minutes and you want to put on something that will really mess with their confidence.
I have NO IDEA what I just watched, but I couldn’t stop watching it.
You could take that sentence right there as my review of Outer Range season one, and you probably should if you don’t want spoilers. Although, can you really call them spoilers if I’m just blindly guessing?
This modern Western is heavy on the Sci-Fi and drama, like an extremely somber version of Cowboys vs. Aliens but you never get to see any aliens – or maybe you do, I have no idea what happened in that hole. But at times the CGI has also got this psychedelic influence and a strong ’60s cult vibe.
Outer Range is not your typical Western in any way, and it won’t be for everyone. It’s definitely not a clear lateral move for fans of Yellowstone. It’s got more in common with season two of Westworld, except you’ll spend even more time confused.
But if you love weird Westerns and solving intricate plot puzzles, this may be exactly in your niche.
It’s really f*cking hard to describe Outer Range’s first season. What I can say for sure is that it’s about a Wyoming ranching family that starts out on tough times, and somehow gets worse with each passing day to the point where actual space and time seem out to destroy their lives.
- Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin) was having trouble making ends meet, and now he has a weird backpacker chick camping on his land and a swirling black hole of nothingness in his field
- Royal’s rich and batshit crazy old rancher neighbour (Will Patton as Wayne Tillerson) keeps trying to take his land
- Perry Abbott’s (Tom Pelphrey) wife mysteriously disappeared many months ago, so he’s an emotional mess and he and his daughter live with the parents
- Rhett Abbott (Lewis Pullman) is a bull rider who can’t catch a win, loves to drink, and also lives with his folks
- Cecilia Abbott is the most practical of the bunch, but her husband’s secrecy and increasingly erratic behaviour is way too much for one woman to tolerate
Tillerson bribes a town official to falsify papers that say he owns Royal’s west pasture – the part with the black hole. Next thing you know, the feud turns fatal.
Royal tries to hide a body, then he calls the police to come get the body off his land, then he goes back to denying anything to do with the body. The backpacker (Imogen Poots) wants to kill Royal, then she doesn’t, then she REALLY does and now she’s got a highly motivated follower. Tillerson acts increasingly unhinged, and then he’s right about everything, but also in a coma.
Deputy Sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski) is the viewer’s only lifeline to what the hell is happening, as she follows up on leads that unravel the truth.
Meanwhile, WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UP WITH THAT F*CKING BLACK HOLE.
Rhett, Deputy Sheriff Joy, and Cecilia are the only main characters that you can really like in Outer Range season one, so let’s start there.
Lewis Pullman looks just like Bill Pullman (The Ballad of Lefty Brown), but what he delivers in Rhett is rougher and more dangerous than his dad’s typically charming characters. It’s a great mix of fragile hopefulness in his eyes at the rodeos and around his crush, and angry-frustrated physicality.
Tamara Podemski is the straight woman in the show, sticking doggedly to the pursuit of justice. It’s a quietly powerful portrayal of a queer Indigenous woman fighting for respect in small-town America, but those labels aren’t Joy’s whole existence. She’s not just a token minority. Podemski makes Joy well-rounded and layered and go genuine, you desperately need her to succeed
Lili Taylor’s performance over season one is a wonderful slow burn. She starts out as the supportive, quiet mother in a house full of melodrama and violence, then builds over the eight episodes toward questioning her faith and a raw, screaming meltdown at the rodeo.
There are a LOT of unlikeable or even detestable characters, but you can’t deny that they’re also great performances.
Will Patton is SO GOOD in the role of Tillerson that you believe he’s actually losing it. From his watery, glassy eyes to his subtle shaking and long monologues to a taxidermied bison, it’s a masterpiece. He could put on a one-man show of just this character, and I’d pay to watch it.
Noah Reid is lightyears from Schitt’s Creek as Billy Tillerson. Reid’s sweet, cherubic face makes Billy so much more sinister. At first his random singing and spacy dialogue seems like Billy is on the spectrum, but it becomes something like Lennie from Of Mice and Men on acid.
Josh Brolin does a solid job with Royal, conveying repressed trauma and increasing rage and violence. Honestly, I found Royal to be a total dick. Fighting to keep his ranch is the only thing that makes him seem relatable and human, until you get to the end of the season and find out why he’s so messed up and it all makes sense.
But you can’t take out your childhood trauma on your loved ones, even if that trauma was accidentally killing your dad and then falling through time.
Then there’s Perry. We should feel bad for him, but he kind of just sits there the whole season while his family falls to shit trying to protect him, and then ruins their efforts with his attempts to take responsibility for killing a guy. Still, Tom Pelphrey is quite good at emoting.
And last but certainly not least, we have our nightmare hippie girl, Autumn. I have NO idea why Royal let her stay on his property. What rancher just lets vagrants camp on his land? None that I know. Still, I enjoyed watching Poots’s performance boil from a mysterious and earthy vagrant to Girl Interrupted-level off-her-meds crazy. She just looks exactly like an aspiring cult leader.
Turns out it’s all spoilers. Sorry.
The production quality in Outer Range’s first season is unsurprisingly off the charts, being an Amazon show. But it’s a bit distracting at times.
Some of the effects become like watching David Bowie at the planetarium and you’re already pretty lost on the plot, so your brain just wants it to go back to something normal and digestible and Western.
Which it does – there are plenty of fist fights, horseback and ATV races across fields, and rodeo scenes to break it all up. But there are several times where the show gets close to alienating the audience by being so mysterious AND so visually surreal. Watching Autumn and Billy in the last episode felt a lot like Mickey and Mallory.
The other downside is that a few of the performances, while enjoyable, feel kinda one note. Royal is already angry from day one. Shaun Sipos is similarly trapped in Luke Tillerson’s lack of arc.
And Amy (Olive Abercrombie) is like a silent little elf the entire season with her huge eyes and pale face. If she’s supposed to be another version of Autumn, you’d think the two would share at least a few personality traits.
With all that said, I will 100% watch season two of Outer Range. I hope they put one of the other characters front and centre. Like maybe we see where Perry went in the hole, or get to rewatch the entire timeline through Rebecca’s experience. As long as Joy is okay, I’m good.