When Netflix first announced that they were producing a new sitcom that would reunite That 70's Show alumni, Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson, we had mixed feelings. The nostalgia factor of getting to see Kelso and Hyde together again on screen was appealing and the supporting cast of Sam Elliot and Debra Winger was ace. However the trailer was a bit iffy and the fact that the show was being created by former Two and a Half Men writers really had us worried. Despite those reservations, we went into this really wanting to like it.
The premise sees Kutcher's Colt Bennett return to work on the family ranch years after abandoning them to go and chase his dream as a pro footballer. He finds that he has a lot of work to do to prove himself to his grumpy father Beau (Sam Elliot) and wise cracking older brother 'Rooster' (Masterson). If the prodigal son premise sounds unoriginal, that's just the tip of the iceberg. We've also got Elisha Cuthbert in play as Colt's ex-girlfriend Abbey who seems settled with her new boyfriend Kenny (Brett Harrison) but is there still a spark between the High School sweethearts?
OK so maybe it's harsh to knock it for a lack of originality in it's premise, how many original shows are there these days? But honestly that's the least of The Ranch's problems. In a post Modern Family/Arrested Development world, it's a risky move creating a new sitcom that employs both a multi-camera set up and a laughter track. Particularly when Netflix have already received such high acclaim for single camera sitcoms like Master of None and Ubreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's not that that style of sitcom is outdated, but there has been a shift in the public's perception of sitcoms and many are becoming adverse to it. Particularly the laughter track. Which is why if you're going to use that style, you really need to bring the funny. The Ranch doesn't bring the funny.
It is a nice change of pace to see a show about working class characters rather than yet another sitcom focusing on the first world problems of the privileged upper class. The mistake that The Ranch makes is assuming that a working class demographic would want the atrocious level of humour offered up here. Some of the 'hilarious' one liners uttered during the show include; 'That's not the vagina I thought I'd be in tonight.' and 'Do you wanna do me on the tractor?'
For the most part, the humour is sexist, misogynist and worst of all cheap. Throwing out one liners thick and fast out of fear the audience will lose interest. The character development is also poor with Colt's new romantic interest Heather (Kelli Goss) going from slutty airhead to wife material in the space about five minutes of screen time.
As was previously pointed out, one of the biggest selling points about The Ranch is the chance to see Kutcher and Masterson together on screen again. While it's hard to buy into Kutcher as a small town hero who peaked in high school his natural likability gets him a pass. Masterson is a bit wobbly in the opening few episodes but gets a lot better as the series progresses as does their on screen rapport.
Overall, The Ranch is arguably Netflix's worst original series to date. Which really is a shame because it had some really good things going for it. In particular, Sam Elliot. Although at first coming off as a poor man's Ron Swanson, Beau becomes his own character as the series progresses and his chemistry with Debra Winger's Maggie produces the best moments in the series. Winger is great too but there are times when you can't help but wonder what an Oscar winning actress like her is doing here.
Rather than release the entire first season in one go, Netflix have taken a new approach with The Ranch by releasing it in two 10 episode batches perhaps as a way to reduce the gamble in case it proves not to be a hit with audiences. In the second episode, Masterson's Rooster asks Beau if he wants to watch something on Netflix to which the elder statesman replies "What the hell is Netflix?" There probably is an audience for The Ranch out there somewhere but like Beau they won't know what Netflix is.