In many ways, The Ranch is nothing but a typical multi-cam sitcom with an increasingly predictable laugh track. The characters are somewhat compelling, if not framed with an intentional dash of mediocrity. And the relationships between the characters are anything but dynamic and unforeseeable. But The Ranch does generate some benefit from the Netflix treatment. Unlike most sitcoms, with their bubblegum aesthetics and over-reliance on consumer friendliness, The Ranch is able to subvert the typical situational comedy.
Looking at the main characters, first there’s the typical anti-hero and prodigal son Colt Bennett (Ashton Kutcher). Despite his tendency toward chronic underachievement, he’s the sort of guy who has had it easy. He’s coming back to small-town America after an unsuccessful series of attempts at becoming a professional football player. Although his lack of success is surely attributable to his burgeoning alcoholism and hedonistic lifestyle, Colt is still considered a sort of legend in his hometown of just over 500 inhabitants. After all, Colt took his football team to state his senior year of high school. And as the show would have you believe, in small-town America, that’s one of those big deals that has generational staying power. As such, Colt enjoys plenty of social graces for otherwise questionable behavior. He’s not much in the way of a unique, dynamic character, but is the sort of guy that probably has tons of crazy stories worth a listen.
And then there’s everyone Colt left behind.
His brother, Rooster Bennett (Danny Masterson) is the underappreciated son who stayed home to help his father take care of the ranch. He comes across as a little jaded, albeit sincere enough to admit that he’s happy for his brother to be back home. The relationship between the two brothers certainly harkens back to a former, highly beloved sitcom starring the two actors. Instead of trying to escape the comparisons to That 70’s Show, which were perhaps inevitable, and possibly intentional, the show reprises the antagonistic, love-hate relationship between the two actors and continues the trajectory within this new, country setting.
The show also includes Beau Bennett (Sam Elliott) as the hard-working, emotionally distant father. Beau and Colt have the typical on-again, off-again spat that centers on a general theme of disappointment, while Beau seems to perpetually underappreciate Rooster’s loyalty and consistency. Beau is the typical blowhard, uncompromising and rough around the edges. And then there’s the matriarch Maggie Bennett. Tough in her own way, she tries hard to give her sons everything that Beau seems constitutionally incapable of.
To top off the character roster, there’s Abby, the one girl Colt ever truly fell for. She’s the one who actually seems to understand Colt, and unlike everyone else, never puts him on a pedestal. Most unfortunately, however, she is tragically unavailable.
The characters seem to be cast within an accessible narrative, and it’s easy to predict how each character will react to a given situation. At times this can make the show come across as slow and something to get through. Regardless, each of the characters fits well within a setting typically reserved for Budweiser commercials and country music videos.
The Ranch is not particularly family-friendly. It’s not much compared to other Netflix releases like Masters of None, but the characters on The Ranch are constantly swearing and referring to sexual innuendos. Not for nothing, this sort of approach may be one of the most appealing aspects of Netflix Originals. It’s refreshing and exciting to witness a spate of original releases free from the typical network standards of censorship and family decency. It’s even more exciting, if not slightly strange, to see a typical sitcom character bellowing the F-word to the consummation of a laugh track. The Ranch gets an opportunity to play around with a genre of television that has been largely tonally set in stone since its inception. In regards to nearly every other concern, however, The Ranch is nothing special.
The show can be entertaining and funny—as long as the audience doesn’t expect too much.
Featured Image By Rancho Hand Productiones