'Outer Range' Review: Surprisingly Odd, But Worth Sticking With
This addictive sci-fi Western starring Josh Brolin should be the next hit to fill the void.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Now that Severance and The Afterparty have wrapped up, there's space in the schedule for an addictive mystery thriller with weekly episode drops.
Enter Outer Range.
The sci-fi Western on Prime Video has all the elements required to become the 2022 Yellowjackets. Much like Yellowjackets, Outer Range asks you to switch on your wild theory generator and set it to trippy sci-fi with odd cult-like symbols, characters with deteriorating mental states and a plot driven by a strong emotional core. It should be the next hit to slot into your viewing schedule.
No stranger to the Western, Josh Brolin is immense as the patriarch of a cattle rancher family living among the mountain valleys of Wyoming. A grandfather figure, rather than a fit middle-aged cowboy, Brolin's Royal Abbott just about manages his family's established ranch. His biggest concern: the West Pasture, where a mysterious presence has disturbed the wild buffalo herds into a frenzy.
Everything hinges on a discovery Royal makes there early on. It brings surreal visuals followed by a huge tease, almost in the vein of Yellowjackets' opening gambit showing us a starkly different view of the characters. It signals that everything is about to change.
Yet after this banging start, Outer Range pulls on the reins and settles into a slow-burn mystery. The sci-fi elements are used sparingly, so that the reality of these smalltown ranchers shatters as slowly and painfully as possible. In other words, don't expect this story to head anywhere near the high mayhem of spaceship shoot 'em up Cowboys & Aliens or the mind-spinning grandeurs of Westworld.
The focus here is trained on the tensions between the Abbotts and the Tillersons, a rival ranching family whose patriarch is also interested in the mysterious West Pasture. Aside from a murder plotline, Deputy Sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski) looks into what happened to Royal's daughter-in-law, whose unsolved disappearance two years ago left a void that still threatens to rip the Abbotts apart.
But Outer Range isn't all glum ranchers in cowboy hats. At times, it's incredibly weird. At one point, a character belts Angel of the Morning over the recovery of a dead body, what feels like an intentional dash of Westworld panache.
Outer Range pushes its moments of levity even further, cutting through the bleak seriousness with more country pop songs and a memorable saliva-dripping makeout scene to rival any teen rom-com. The tone is occasionally all over the place: emotional family drama gives way to an offbeat Fargo-style thriller; grizzled, preoccupied characters cast stunned looks at their over-the-top townsfolk neighbors.
Noah Reid's Billy Tillerson will be a shock for anyone who binged Schitt's Creek over lockdown. Reid is best known for playing sweet and sensible Patrick. Here, he plays a blond-tipped, doe-eyed (read: dumb), brawny cowboy who only uses the right, more creative side of his brain.
The other Abbott and Tillerson sons (there are no daughters) are defined more by their situations rather than discernible character traits. A lost wife, a rodeo career and a legacy to inherit give them a stake in the story -- a stake that still brings the occasional lull.
The West Pasture mystery picks up steam again when a stranger comes to town. Imogen Poots puts in a huge shift as hippy-type Autumn, the impulsive young antagonist with cryptic beliefs challenging everything Brolin's old cowboy knows.
This pairing is a compelling flame at the heart of Outer Range's occasionally loose haystack. The show isn't at prestige TV level, its pacing and tone blowing in the wind. But the sci-fi Western is unique, at times intense and unnerving and driven by the force that is Josh Brolin.
Your next show to get excited about is here.
Two episodes (there are eight in total) of Outer Range hit Prime Video every week starting Friday, April 15.