Measuring most shows against the masterful Twin Peaks feels unfair. But Brian Watkins’ Outer Range baldly baits the comparison—sometimes with success but more often to his show’s detriment.
Sweeping shots of Wyoming bleed into world-expanding reality rips in this science-fiction/Western mashup, now streaming two of eight episodes (with the rest coming two-per-week) on Amazon Prime Video. Much in the same way Mark Frost and David Lynch’s surrealist detective series presented an eerie Pacific Northwest in the ’90s, Outer Range positions the cattle ranch owned by Royal Abbott (a steely Josh Brolin) as the epicenter of a bizarre mystery that loses steam midway through.
When a seemingly bottomless pit—perfectly circular and ominously black—appears on the Abbott family’s ranch, Royal, wife Cecilia (Lili Taylor), sons Perry (Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman), and granddaughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie) are metaphorically pushed and pulled by its swirling strangeness. Simultaneously, neighboring rancher Wayne Tillerson (a spectacularly weird Will Patton) attempts to seize the Abbott’s land, claiming an assessor awarded him 600 acres that includes the pit he doesn’t yet know about.
Then comes Autumn (Imogen Poots), a hippy backpacker from Colorado with a frighteningly intense fixation on Royal and his family. Toss in an unsolved murder and the comedy stylings of quirky Deputy Sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski) and her sidekick Matt (Matthew Maher) and you’ve got a regular Twin Peaks knockoff minus the “damn fine cup of coffee.”
Outer Range weaves these small-town, Yellowstone-esque subplots with its Annihilation-like main event reasonably well through the first few episodes. But the special Twin Peaks sauce that’s slipped away from countless other copycats eventually proves as elusive as ever. It’s a shame too, since the show’s lackluster second half might’ve been alleviated by simply including fewer episodes or trying to do something a little more original with its runtime.
Although there’s clumsy character development in episode one, “The Void” (drink every time it’s explicitly stated that Rhett likes to sleep around), that’s combated by the perfectly taught drama of episode two, “The Land.” That chapter upends audience expectations with a rapid-fire set of reveals in the existential puzzle box spirit of late-stage Lost, and that quality is generally maintained in episodes three (“The Time”) and four (“The Loss”).
But by the time Outer Range devolves into the goofiness of episodes five through eight (“The Soil,” “The Family,” “The Unknown,” and “The West”) that once satisfying strangeness grows as achingly redundant as its chapters’ title structure. Clips are repeated two, three, even four times as frantic recycling in the editing room struggles to account for lacking material by tossing together sequences that are more messy than mind-bending.
Yes, that tactic was used in Twin Peaks, too. But the intangible excellence of that show’s editing came in part from Lynch’s knack for nailing dreamlike visuals, something this new series sorely lacks start to end. Despite the promise of a stunning natural setting and a big ol’ hole to throw things into, Watkins can’t quite come into his own. Even as the soapy interpersonal stories ramp up, there’s a nagging feeling Outer Range never goes far enough.