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Outer Range review: Cowboys through the looking glass

“It’s like Twilight Zone crossed with Yellowstone … or David Lynch meets John Ford.”

It’s easy to rattle off familiar reference points like these when asked about Outer Range, Amazon Studios’ trippy, sci-fi/Western series about a cattle rancher who discovers an otherworldly hole in a remote corner of his land. But like many projects that make secrecy a selling point, Outer Range doesn’t fit cleanly into any comparisons its premise and tone initially bring to mind. It’s a messy story well told, and is primed to polarize audiences with its time-twisting narrative as it tells a powerful story about trauma, faith, and family.

In other words, Outer Range has all the makings of a show people will want to talk about … a lot. And much like other shows that lean into the surreal (à la Lost and Twin Peaks), not everyone will be satisfied with the story it tells.

The cast of Outer Range looks out over the prairie.

Created and written by Brian Watkins, Outer Range casts Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, the patriarch of a Wyoming family of cattle ranchers. When Royal discovers a massive, gaping hole in the ground with seemingly no bottom at one end of the family’s property, it sets off a series of events that endanger everything — and everyone — he holds dear, and ultimately forces everyone around the Abbott family to question their understanding of life, time, and reality itself.

Season 1 of Outer Range (which doesn’t overtly lend itself to multiple seasons, but anything is possible) unfolds over the course of eight episodes, with Royal discovering the strange hole around the same time a mysterious hitchhiker arrives at his ranch. He soon finds himself and the entire Abbott family drawn into a rapidly escalating conflict with a neighboring family, a murder investigation, and the growing mystery surrounding the hole. Imogen Poots (28 Weeks LaterVivarium) portrays the drifter, Autumn, who makes it clear early on that she knows more than she’s willing to tell Royal about the strange events unfolding around him.

While the hole is the epicenter of the storm that develops around Royal, much of the narrative in Outer Range remains relatively grounded as Royal’s children, Perry (Iron Fist actor Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Catch-22‘s Lewis Pullman), become the primary suspects in a murder investigation, while Royal and his wife, Cecilia (Lili Taylor), fend off attempts by their nearest neighbor to steal a large swath of their land. That the parcel of land in question also happens to be where the hole is located only adds to the stakes, as neighboring family patriarch Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton) also harbors plenty of secrets related to the hole.

Josh Brolin walks toward a massive, mysterious hole in the ground in a scene from Outer Range.

For much of the season, Outer Range is a slow burn, teasing the supernatural aspects of the hole, characters’ relationships with it, and the strange phenomena seemingly linked to it in drips here and there. Even when the story dives (in some cases, literally) into this sci-fi element of an otherwise straightforward drama, it offers more clues than clarity, opting to maintain the enigmatic nature of the hole instead of offering any easily digestible explanations.

That’s not to say the series refuses to deliver some answers to the questions it poses. Audiences will have their patience rewarded with a few big revelations by the season’s conclusion, but anyone hoping for a clean-cut resolution to the supernatural mysteries of Outer Range will likely be left wanting.

Still, there’s plenty to enjoy about the series outside its spookier elements. Brolin and the rest of the series’ cast deliver wonderful performances that lock down the story’s dramatic arc and keep the narrative compelling over all eight episodes of fraught events unfolding within the Abbott family and around it. While the mysterious hole serves to set certain plot developments in motion, it occasionally feels secondary to the very serious events transpiring in orbit around it — events that share more in common with an exploration of trauma, faith, and family than a weird spot on the ground with paranormal qualities.

Imogen Poots stares at shadowed figured in a scene from Outer Range.

How audiences feel about Outer Range will almost certainly decide on their expectations heading into it and their ability to adjust those expectations as the story plays out. The series delivers a stronger, more satisfying experience as a study of grief and trauma, and the way individuals process both on their own and as members of a family or other community. The entire Abbott family — and the Tillersons, for that matter — are complex, many-faceted characters capable of both great kindness and terrible cruelty when threatened. As the show’s most puzzling character, Poots also carries plenty of narrative weight in the story, and the same can be said of Tamara Podemski, whose portrayal of the town’s deputy sheriff feels deeper and more fascinating than it would have been without the nuance and touch she brings to the role.

Anyone hoping for a more supernatural, fantastic story in Outer Range might not feel as rewarded by the season’s arc, however. Given the sci-fi flavor of the show’s marketing campaign, that’s likely to leave some audiences disappointed, but those able to make that pivot with their expectations and see the series for what it really is should find plenty to appreciate — and go back and examine in repeat viewings — in the story Outer Range offers.

The first two episodes of Outer Range premiere Friday, April 15, on Prime Video.

Outer Range (2022)
Outer Range
tv-ma 1 Season
Genre Western, Mystery
Cast Josh Brolin, Tom Pelphrey, Tamara Podemski
Created by Brian Watkins

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