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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Outer Range

"Outer Range,” a sci-fi Western from creator Brian Watkins, concerns two voids. The physical void is a smoke-filled hole in Wyoming located on disputed land that leads to a bottomless chasm.


The spiritual void—felt by the severe and brooding patriarch Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin), the kind of silent Western man whose heart suffers from a unique drought isn’t as simple to locate. Royal is a rancher. A man of the earth. But the land is beginning to betray him, and judgment day is nigh.


Despite his silence, Royal becomes one of television’s most relatable characters. Like any human, he feels that haunting terror, the kind that creeps in the night like an idiot in plain sight, the kind your brain lets in when your imagination opens the door.


You feel it most after a tragedy. Does God exist? And if he does, why does he let bad things happen? Royal hasn’t felt God for some time, which makes the oppressively silent nights all the more difficult.


His daughter-in-law, the wife of his son Perry (Tom Pelphrey), disappeared without a trace a few months ago. The loss has affected everyone; his young granddaughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie) aloofly ventures around the house.


His other son, Rhett (Lewis Pullman), a champion bull rider, can’t seem to get back in the groove. Perry is shattered, and moves as quietly as Royal. To cope, Cecilia (Lili Taylor), the family matriarch and Royal’s wife, has thrown herself into church.


Each feels abandoned by God, and sometimes, abandoned by each other.


“Outer Range” is one of those series in which you can’t pinpoint its origin, but it strikes a nerve.


Maybe because it’s so familiar yet so alien? That sense comes on strong when the cheery backpacker Autumn (Imogen Poots) happens, or so we believe, upon the Abbott’s ranch.


She asks to camp on their land for just a few days without offering many details about herself, except that she mysteriously has a wealth of money. Even so, for the time being, her importance pales in comparison to the cattle baron family, the Tillersons.


Their infirmed father Wayne (Will Patton) living with an unknown ailment, is suing Royal over land he claims is his. And his young sons—Luke (Shaun Sipos), Billy (Noah Reid), and Trevor (Matt Lauria)—are all too happy to lord their family’s influence over the local authorities, including Joy Hawk (Tamara Podemski), an Indigenous lesbian running for sheriff.


Initially, Royal can’t figure out why Wayne suddenly wants the land. It’s been in Cecilia’s family for over a century. But when a bizarre void appears in the disputed territory it strikes the kind of fear in Royal that arises when mortality taps you on the shoulder.


One of the great pleasures of “Outer Range” derives from the known yet unknown, or the comprehension of incomprehensible questions.


For instance, in the premiere, after Perry beats Trevor to death, Royal disposes of Trevor’s body by dumping him into the hole.


 “Outer Range” overflows with tonal shifts, which are smoothly guided by each actor crafting a deep inner life to their respective character. A transcendent Imogen Poots, as the eccentric Autumn, works through unimaginable stratas, traversing much of the series as an enigma separate from time and place.


The eeriness is effective and it really is a genuine pleasure to see a show that deviates from the crushing flatness of so much streaming content. Even without the heavy lifting done by the hard-to-screw-up locations, it’s made with an eye on artistry that more

small-screen directors could afford to adopt.



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