"Holy shit, that's a mile from our house!" I gawk at the YouTube video on my screen. Packed onto an old-fashioned bike and whizzing across my little beach town are the stars of Netflix smash hit Outer Banks: a smoky-eyed young woman with sun-streaked hair, draping her arms around a dude in a white T-shirt with a similarly blondish shoulder-length mop. Chase Stokes and Madelyn Cline flirt beneath the craggy trees two minutes up the road from me; they ride across the marina that I pass every time I leave the island; they get steamy at The Fat Pelican, a local dive bar.
Alas, these scenes didn't actually appear in the series that soared to Netflix's No. 1 spot in April 2020. Instead, the stars graced my stomping grounds to shoot a music video for Kygo's synthed-up remix of Donna Summer's classic bop "Hot Stuff." The video racked up 21 million views, evidence of the teen drama's popularity. And when someone asks in the comments who's excited for season 2 (streaming July 30), more than a thousand fans add a thumbs-up. Including me.
I live a couple hundred miles down the coast from the Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands in North Carolina. My town, Kure Beach, sits on a human-made island off the coast of Wilmington, a Southern film hub. The show was originally supposed to film in Wilmington and the real OBX. But after Netflix rejected the location to protest the legislative impacts of HB2, North Carolina's discriminatory "bathroom bill," Outer Banks hopped across the state line to film in Charleston, South Carolina.
Having sat and watched both seasons with the roar of a real North Carolina ocean in my ears, I can attest that Outer Banks makes life around here seem a lot more riveting than it is. And for that, I am immensely grateful. Who would enjoy a Netflix show documenting a bunch of tourists getting sunburnt, retirees reading on the beach and locals engaging in Facebook disputes over town parking policies?
It made me smile to see season 2 keep up the beautiful camerawork that harnesses Carolina scenery to take us on emotional journeys: the foreboding open ocean, the mysterious coastal marsh that seems to extend forever.
Sure, like the first season, "OBX2" frequently veers into insufferable teen-soap territory -- not Riverdale bad, but comparable to One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars. Sure, it requires you to perform some mind-boggling suspension of disbelief in order to accept the tenuous thread of lucky coincidences and convenient circumstances holding together the characters' survival. Sure, at times it feels produced by an artificial intelligence whom the creators had fed two decades of teen TV, a few hundred tweets' worth of Gen Z slang, an American Eagle marketing email, a warm-toned Instagram filter and the script of The Goonies. But it does the job: It's as addictive as the coke that 19-year-old villain Rafe Cameron snorts off his red motorbike. It's as much of a whirlwind as the tropical depression that star-crossed lovers John B. Routledge and Sarah Cameron miraculously survive in an open boat (how?) on the open ocean (impossible) in the season 1 finale that left us craving more.
After the shootouts, drugs, money, betrayals, disappearances, deaths, conspiracies and police chases that made the first season so intense, it's tough to imagine the stakes getting much higher. But season 2 amps up the action as the Pogues -- the scrappy, adventurous teenagers at the story's heart -- go from running around the island to running around, well, the Atlantic.
Co-creators Shannon Burke, Jonas Pate and Josh Pate -- all with ties to the Tar Heel state -- serve up an intricate and cleverly devised plot packed with explosive surprises (sometimes literally), keeping us on our toes to the point that it actually gets a bit exhausting. We witness multiple near-death experiences practically every episode. In the first season, all the characters seemed to do was kiss and fight; this season, all they seem to do is die and resurrect. It's so intense, it almost makes you miss last season's stilted banter and corny teen slang a la "yeet."
I'm convinced this show owes a not-insignificant chunk of its success to its actors, who offset any hokeyness or unbelievability in the writing with sincere, authentic performances. Doubly impressive is that the core group of characters consists entirely of newcomers, all of whom demonstrate exceptional acting chops. (The chemistry between Stokes and Cline is so tangible, it seems to have translated off-screen: The actors went public with their relationship a couple months after the show's release and a quick Instagram stalk indicates that they're going strong. Cute!)
Season 1 sometimes pigeonholed the Pogues into common tropes: John B, the dashingly handsome leader; Pope, the neurotic brain who unironically says things like "according to my calculations"; JJ, the guy who blows things up; Kiara, the girl who just wants to save the turtles. But season 2 delivers the character development and depth I had been craving. Particularly unsettling -- and masterfully performed -- is Rafe Cameron's descent from a sniveling country-club douchebag to an unhinged, bloodthirsty villain who will go to murderous lengths to prove himself.
Apart from the obvious N.C. nods -- the real-life "Figure Eight," where the show's country-clubby Kooks live, and "The Cut," the Pogues' shabbier dwelling place, are both named after landmarks in my county -- I noticed familiar traits of Southern beach culture. Moss hangs from live oaks. The locals roll their eyes at tourists -- "tourons," John B calls them -- but know their town needs the money they bring each summer. A bit of local trivia: Around Outer Banks' initial release, my classmates at UNC-Chapel Hill would not stop yapping about a scene in season 1 that many North Carolinians perceive as a geographic faux pas -- the main characters appear to hop on a ferry to get from the Outer Banks to Chapel Hill, a town over 200 miles inland. After a major lampooning from the press and even the North Carolina Ferry System itself, the show's creators clarified that after they disembark from the ferry, the characters are briefly shown getting out of an Uber they had taken to Chapel Hill. (Still, that's a pretty expensive ride. Kooks gonna Kook, I guess.)
But something bugged me in Outer Banks' portrayal of life in the coastal South: The show seems to totally sidestep race. It's ironic, because the plot revolves around riches that a fictional Black enslaved person named Denmark Tanny recovered from a shipwreck and harnessed to free other enslaved people -- with a white mob ultimately lynching him in retaliation. Yet Outer Banks doesn't touch modern-day racism with a 10-foot pole. It reduces the island's haves-and-have-nots dynamic and broken justice system to an issue of class, without any mention of racism or race itself. It's a glaring omission for a show set in a state where the legacy of slavery lives on so visibly in its racial wealth gap and neo-Confederate activity. To its credit, though, Outer Banks featured more positive Black representation than we've typically seen from teen TV: Pope the courageous scholar, Kiara the passionate environmentalist, Peterkin the noble sheriff, Heyward the caring father and many others.
My prediction is that Outer Banks season 2 will easily hit Netflix's top 10 and perhaps even snag the No. 1 spot again. It's the type of show that's tailored to go viral -- and with its exceptional acting and thrilling plot, I'm not complaining too hard.
I look forward to seeing what else Outer Banks' creators have in store. They told a North Carolina news station they're hoping for two or three additional seasons. Plus, they're developing another North Carolina-set show called Blue Ridge -- bringing the action westward to the mountain wilderness therapy camp where Kiara's distraught parents threaten to send her following some Pogue antics in OBX2.
And hey -- if Outer Banks season 3 is in need of a real-life 21-year-old North Carolina beach bum, they're welcome to knock on my door. (They'll just need to excuse my lack of surfing ability or American Eagle crop tops.)