ugg boots girls Ashton Kutcher’s ‘The Ranch’ shows Netflix can do traditional sitcoms
Up to this point, the streaming revolution has gained converts because Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have tried to offer original series that are more daring, edgy and unconventional than the doctors/lawyers/cops fodder that still hogs much of the airtime on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
But what happens when streaming services start to resemble broadcast networks? It’s hard not to wonder if the alternative programming mission gets diluted when Netflix the most ambitious and prolific programmer of original streaming shows adds traditional sitcoms like “Fuller House.”
“Fuller House” is a sequel to “Full House,” the harmlessly cornball sitcom that originally aired from 1987 to 1995. So you can argue that “Fuller House” fits comfortably into Netflix’s revival/sequel category (“Arrested Development,” “Gilmore Girls,” etc.) “Fuller House” is also an example of Netflix’s recently beefed up focus on kids and family shows (“Degrassi: Next Class.”)
But what are we to make of a new Netflix comedy that reunites “That ’70s Show” castmates Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson? Created by network sitcom veterans Don Reo and Jim Patterson, who worked with Kutcher on the last few seasons of “Two and a Half Men,” “The Ranch” is as far away from “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” Netflix’s two early signature shows as ketchup is from Bordelaise.
In most ways, “The Ranch” feels like it could have premiered on CBS, tucked in between “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom.” Like the former, it’s a multi camera comedy, filmed before a live audience, whose chuckles and chortles cue us when to laugh. Like the latter, it has occasional serious moments about family conflicts and falling short of your goals, but reliably ends even the darkest scenes on a laugh line.
Based on the first few episodes of the show’s initial 10 episodes (more are to come), “The Ranch” is too raunchy for family viewing, with four letter words, and jokes about male body parts, female body parts, people drinking too much, sexual positions, sexual use of whipped cream, and, well, you get the idea.
And instead of trying to appeal to the hipster ish viewers and fanboys drinking in “Master of None” or “Daredevil,” “The Ranch” is built around a family that’s both conservative and off kilter. The credits feature an American flag,
cowboy boots, high school cheerleaders and cattle.
Kutcher plays Colt Bennett, a former high school football star whose semi pro football career fizzled out. He comes home, tail between his legs, to the Colorado ranch run by his gruff father, Beau (Sam Elliott.) Rounding out the cast are Masterson as Rooster, the sarcastic brother who stayed behind to help on the ranch, and Debra Winger as Maggie, the 30 something brothers’ mother and Beau’s wife. Maggie owns the town bar, lives in her own Airstream, but still hooks up with her husband when the frisky mood strikes.
The music is country, the father is a cowboy Archie Bunker who dismisses global warming as “a bunch of crap Al Gore made up to sell books to Californians,” and the cast is anything but diverse.
Though much of “The Ranch” feels familiar, and an odd fit for Netflix, that doesn’t mean it’s terrible. For all the crude jokes (the premiere, for example, goes on and on about how Uggs are girly footwear, not suitable for a real man), Kutcher and Masterson have an easy, unforced brotherly rapport. Kutcher in particular knows exactly how to come off as both a conceited jerk and a guy who suspects he’s made a mess of his life so far.
Elliott is also assured at doing the sitcom pivot, going from broad jokes about farm animals to dramatic scenes with his son without missing a beat. Winger, so wonderful in everything (a photo of her in the credits recalls how great Winger was in 1980’s “Urban Cowboy”) doesn’t get nearly enough to do, but she makes every moment count.
“The Ranch” is surprisingly timely, with its gestures at representing the concerns of the struggling middle class, the people who might be turning out for Donald Trump rallies. All in all, though, “The Ranch” isn’t a show we necessarily needed Netflix to give us. But if you’ve given up on broadcast TV and yearn for new takes on old style sitcoms, with R rated jokes, Netflix is there for you.