God Bless the USA...and the Sitcom
Streaming on Netflix | 2016 | TV-MA | 6 seasons, 10 episodes each
Why We Watched: Netflix has been suggesting this to me for a while, and honestly? I only decided to check it out after I re-watched A Star is Born recently; I wanted more of Sam Elliott, who plays old school Colorado rancher Beau Bennett, father to Colt (Ashton Kutcher) and Rooster (Danny Masterson).
You Might Also Like: Time to revisit That '70s Show, friends! Also streaming on Netflix. The two shows have radically different sets, yet the overlap in cast and genre makes them fun to compare.
I didn’t expect to like The Ranch much, and for the first few episodes I was right. Why did I keep watching, you ask? Probably curiosity—I knew there were six seasons, so I wanted to see how they kept it going—and maybe Ashton Kutcher's goofy charm. The show, which follows the (mis)adventures of the Bennett family as they fight to save their ranch in Garrison, Colorado, seemed unfocused and forced in the beginning. I liked (most of) the characters individually, but they just hadn't gelled together yet. And Elliott’s character Beau, who drew me to The Ranch in the first place, is at first little more than a caricature of a grumpy, unmalleable, hardass old cowboy. Hardly what I was hoping for.
That all changes in Season Two. The cast seems collectively to exhale, and their chemistry takes off. It doesn’t hurt that more actors from the well-oiled ‘70s Show cast start appearing. Kelso (Kutcher) and Hyde (Masterson) were there from the start, playing brothers Colt and Rooster, but now Wilmer Valderrama appears as Umberto, quirky ranch hand and BFF to the Bennett brothers, and so does Debra Jo Rupp as Abby's mom, Janice. And Elliott’s Beau Bennett? He softens some and becomes exponentially more likable, especially as he reveals his soft spot for the wonderful young women who fall in love with his bumbling sons. Kutcher, who along with Masterson executive produces the show, is great too. In fact he’s so dang appealing (as usual) that you can almost—almost!—overlook his truly horrible country accent.
But the beating heart of the show is Elisha Cuthbert—yup, that Elisha Cuthbert, of The Girl Next Door fame. Cuthbert plays Abby, Colt’s high school girlfriend who he still carries a flame for, and I swear she reaches nirvana when the obvious delight she takes in her character and the ever-improving writing come together. She hits her stride hard and plays the character effortlessly, her raucous, clear laugh overshadowing the over-worked laugh track. Abby is really funny, but it's even funnier that she thinks she's so funny. Cuthbert’s comedic timing is superb, and the way she laughs at Abby’s own jokes? Perfection.
The Ranch boasts more than a great cast, though. Classic sitcom that it is, it tackles serious topics with a gravity, bravery, openness, and gentleness I couldn't have predicted after those first mediocre episodes. Abortion, divorce, gun rights, immigration, death—The Ranch tackles them all in a way that I found really admirable, and even touching.
It feels like the show's creators, and the cast, are trying to work through tough questions alongside the characters, and along with its viewers. The Ranch is often light and silly, yet it does really tough and valuable work by modeling, in my opinion, the kind of discourse we should be having at the national, community, and personal level. For a show in which every other word is "fuck" or one of its variants, The Ranch is surprisingly nuanced and poignant. I have to confess that that delights me.
Now I’m off to watch the last two seasons. Happy Streaming!