Thursday, April 14, 2022

Outer Range, on Amazon Prime

Disputes over land are a classic motivation for feuding in the West. As things stood, there was already tension between the Abbotts and the Tillersons before Wayne Tillerson filed a claim for Royal Abbott’s western pasture land. Abbott isn’t about to let any of his ranch go without a fight, especially given the secret presence of a mysterious portal thingy. Unfortunately, there are always more questions than answers in creator Brian Watkins’ Outer Range, which premieres tomorrow on Amazon Prime.

Abbott’s family was already reeling from the mysterious disappearance of his daughter-in-law Rebecca, but his young granddaughter Amy is handling it remarkably well. In contrast, his eldest son Perry remains an emotional wreck. Massively inconveniently, he lets one of the loutish Tillerson boys goad him into a lethal parking lot fight. Panicking, he and his brother Rhett bring the body home to Pa, who happens to know the perfect place to dispose of it.

The problem is, when you throw something into the portal, you never know where or when it will come out. Watkins never establishes any rules for the yawning void. Instead of fascinating viewers as a metaphor for the randomness of existence, its unpredictability conspicuously serves Watkins’ interests in moving the plot along. For Royal, there are the additional problems that Autumn, the creepy hippy camping on his land, also knows about the portal, and Wayne Tillerson most likely suspects the existence of something like it.

Outer Range, the portal is like the well Watkins keeps going back to when he needs to shake things up. Yet, the pacing is still laboriously deliberate (it leans more towards Power of the Dog than The Magnificent Seven). Perversely, it also regularly antagonizes its target audience with Royal Abbott’s raving announcements of the death of God. Faith is something that life beats out of you in Outer Range.

It is all quite frustrating, because the basic premise is intriguing and the haunted loneliness of the Wyoming plains is eerily cinematic. Yet, the fundamental conflict between Royal Abbott and the manipulative Autumn never makes sense, especially in light of their big secret revelations. Imogen Poots’ twitchy, off-putting portrayal of the New Agey Autumn does not help either. In contrast, it is often difficult to watch Josh Brolin’s personification of “wounded masculinity,” because it is so genuine. Of course, Will Patton outshines everyone as the crazy-as-a-loon Wayne Tillerson. Olive Abercrombie also helps elevate and redeem the series as young Amy Abbott.

Outer Range
is just too cryptic for its own good. It never reveals enough of its fantastical mythology to hook the audience, leaving us unsatisfied instead. Still, the use of a CGI buffalo herd (that presumably came through the portal) is pretty cool. Regardless, the series misses the target too often. Not recommended, Outer Range starts streaming Friday (4/15) on Amazon Prime.