Engrossing ‘Outer Range’ wrangles a ranch family into the unknown, like a supernatural ‘Yellowstone’
Josh Brolin perfectly cast as the patriarch keeping a big secret on rewarding Prime Video series.
“AMERICA TELLS YOU THAT THE ONLY THINGS WORTH KNOWING ARE THOSE WHICH CAN BE KNOWN. AMERICA IS WRONG.” – Highway billboard frequently seen in “Outer Range.”
That billboard right there is an indication that if you hold up a “Black Mirror” you’ll see “Signs” we’re on the “Outer Limits” of “The Twilight Zone” in the engrossing and occasionally cryptic and sometimes flat-out looney-tunes Prime Video limited series “Outer Range,” a 21st century Western with supernatural elements. I sure hope there’s a second season because it’s a long and sometimes frustrating climb before we get to a handful of fantastically surprising twists, but a whole lot of other questions remain.
On the surface, “Outer Range” bears more than a passing similarity to “Yellowstone,” in that it centers on a ranching family in Wyoming led by a crusty patriarch who has his hands full cleaning up after his often rebellious and out-of-control grown children, dealing with scrapes that sometimes turn ugly and violent, and clashing with rival families and politicians as an election looms, all the while inching ever closer to facing his own mortality.
Premieres with two episodes Friday on Prime Video, followed by two new episodes each Friday through May 6.
In his best role since “No Country For Old Men” (which seems positively straightforward and traditional compared to the goings-on here), Josh Brolin, who can wear a cowboy hat and ride the range and do laconic with the best of ’em and make everything from “Shut your mouth!” to “I love you, honey” sound a little bit ominous, is perfectly cast as family patriarch Royal Abbott. Rising before dawn every day, Royal runs an expansive ranch that has been in the family for some three generations—and this land means almost as much to him as his family. The wonderful Lili Taylor is Royal’s wife, Cecilia, a fierce and loving matriarch searching for spiritual redemption; Lewis Pullman is younger son Rhett Abbott, who never met a beer or a hookup he didn’t like and could have a promising career as a bull rider if he ever got his act together; Tom Pelphrey is elder son Perry, whose wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances nearly a year ago, and Olive Abercrombie is Perry’s precocious daughter Amy, who’s always looking on wide-eyed as her dad and her Uncle Rhett and her grandparents are clashing over some dust-up or another before they gather themselves together and head off to church.
The acting Sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski), a gay Native American who is in a tight election race, tries to keep the peace between the Abbotts and their historical rivals the Tillersons, who have made a legal claim to a treasured chunk of the Abbott ranch. The invaluable character actor Will Patton (“Minari”) plays the ailing and quite weird Wayne Tillerson, while Matt Lauria is hot-tempered older brother Trevor Tillerson and Noah Reid is younger brother Billy, who has a habit of singing women’s vocal pop standards such as Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” in a vibrant and beautiful yet unsettling tenor voice.
Another key character is one Autumn Rivers (Imogen Poots), a wandering hippie who receives Royal’s permission to camp out on his property and almost immediately strikes up a strange bond with Royal. They might be some kind of kindred spirits, or they might kill one another. It’s close.
Some scenes in “Outer Range” play out like a traditional modern Western: family squabbles and romantic entanglements; rounding up the cattle and mending fences; nighttime rodeos; honky-tonk bars where the patrons drink beers and shots, and it’s more than likely a fight will break out; moments of stunning and irrevocable violence, including a murder.
But we have to talk about The Void, and we’re going to tread lightly here so as not to spoil anything that hasn’t already been revealed in the trailer and advance interviews for “Outer Range.” Early one morning, Royal comes across a giant metaphysical void that has popped up on a remote edge of his property—a seemingly bottomless hole crackling with some kind of electro-magnetic-possibly-extraterrestrial-magical-spiritual-deadly-who-knows-for-sure energy. He is drawn to the hole and he is mesmerized by the hole but he is also fearful of the hole, and he vows to keep it a secret, and let’s just say: Good luck with that, Royal. There’s also talk around town of mastodon sightings and a mountain suddenly disappearing, and we often see a majestic buffalo who might or might not be real.
With Santa Fe, New Mexico, standing in for Wyoming, “Outer Range” is a visually arresting and well-edited series, augmented by the perfect use of a wide range of soundtrack tunes from “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen to “Your Sweet Love” by Lee Hazelwood to “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn (!), and featuring sharp and in some cases operatic-big performances from the ensemble cast.This is a series that drops in hints and clues and moments of foreshadowing in sometimes frustratingly small doses (we want answers, now!), but when the reveals do come, we’re shocked and delighted, and somehow all the madness begins to make some kind of sense.