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The Ranch Offers a Conventional Sitcom, but You Won’t Find It on Primetime

Netflix lands a show that would not have looked unusual on the major networks.

"The Ranch""The Ranch," NetflixThe Ranch. Available Friday, April 1, on Netflix.

The most interesting thing about The Ranch is in the credits. That's not intended as a put-down; this sitcom about a football hero returning to his hometown after playing out the string in the wide world is reasonably funny, its touches of poignance satisfactorily bittersweet, and there are lots of less profitable ways to spend half an hour with your TV, many of which do not even involve a Kardashian.

The Ranch's significance lies in its ordinariness, starting with its plot. Ashton Kutcher stars as Colt Bennett, a local boy made not so good. A star high school quarterback whose wastrel ways undid him in college, the NFL and now even Canadian football, he's come home to the hardscrabble family ranch in Colorado while he tries out for a $250-a-game semi-pro gig.

His father, Beau (Sam Elliott), isn't exactly thrilled to see him. "Every opportunity you've had," Beau notes with a hard stare, "you've either smoked it or drank it or screwed it away." Less astringently, the sentiment echoes through Colt's family and former friends.

Older brother Rooster (Danny Masterson, Men at Work), who stayed behind to work on the ranch while Colt pursued and then botched his dreams, isn't happy to resume his place in the shadow of the star. His ex-cheerleader ex (Elisha Cuthbert, Happy Endings) vomits on him. Only Colt's saloon-keep mother, Maggie (Debra Winger, in her first major Hollywood project in two decades), long and mysteriously estranged from Beau, seems pleased.

But Colt's arrival seems to ignite some flickering family spirit. He and Rooster resume brotherly pursuits like sports talk ("You are insane, there's no way Jack Daniel's kicks Johnny Walker's ass!") and lines guaranteed to end a romance just before Valentine's Day, thus avoiding an expensive dinner ("Hey, has your sister got a new set of titties?") Even Maggie attempts a fitful semi-reconciliation with Beau, with decidedly mixed results.

In short, The Ranch broadly resembles about a thousand other TV show you've already seen, including a couple (CBS's rehabbing-mother-daughter reunion Mom and Fox's return of the Hollywood-airhead prodigal son The Grinder) on the broadcast air right now. Its rural red-state setting offers a few unusual trappings, chiefly Elliott's rough-hewn turn as a cowboy whose political convictions (the moon landing and global warming are hoaxes, but the North Korean military threat to Colorado isn't) are only slightly less tenacious than his parenting style. (Maverick: "We don't fight, Beau. I bring something up, you shut me down, and that's the end of discussion." Beau: "That's not true. End of discussion!")

But basically, shorn of a few four-letter words and an occasional arm thrust up the cervix of a cow, there's nothing about The Ranch that wouldn't fit in just fine on network television, and that goes for both sides of the camera: The veteran, bankable cast. The workmanlike producers (Don Reo and Jim Patterson, lately of Two and a Half Men, as is Kutcher). The cookie-cutter sets. The three-camera photography and editing. The laugh track.

Yet The Ranch isn't on broadcast or even cable TV, but Netflix. (Ten episodes go on-line Friday; another 10 later in the year.) And, far more than push-the-envelope series like Orange Is the New Black, experimental oddities like Sense8, or hey-check-us-out blockbusters like 11.22.63, television executives should hear a distinct alarm bell on the soundtrack of The Ranch. When producers and stars with easy access to the TV suits take their perfectly conventional work online instead, the digital future stops being the future and becomes the right now.

Photo Credit: "The Ranch," Netflix

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Microaggressor||

    Looking forward to more F is for Family.

  • Trigger Warning||

    Was it supposed to be funny? Dramedy? Serious? I couldn't tell. I thought the show was generally sloppy, with some truly cringe-inducing funny moments (like the fat guy with his fried chicken and cigarettes).

    One thing that the show did nail was the dad's temper. My old man, a pissy little Irish bastard of amazingly short temper, used to scream about shit the exact same way as the dad on the show. Apparently, a lot of dads of his generation (he's now in his late 60s) were like that. I remember the first friend I had who had a dad that wasn't constantly screaming about something- I thought something was wrong with their family, because it was quiet at their house.

  • ||

    Did he claim to invent the question mark too?

  • silent v||

    Ashton Kutcher...April 1...

    Are you sure this isn't an elaborate episode of Punk'd?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Sounds like a total waste of...did someone say Elisha Cuthbert? May have to give this one a look. On second thought, it sounds like the only not safe for the network bits are due to language. Pass.

  • Cloudbuster||

    She's awfully cute, even with her clothes on.

  • Mainer2||

    We've all seen those weird jobs like gaffer and best boy in movie credits.
    Watch the credits for any movie with Sam Elliott, and you'll see "Mustache Wrangler".
    Tombstone, with Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer had three of them.

  • pan fried wylie||

    It's a vanishing trade, like blacksmithing.

  • Dong of Justice||

    Need more Stamos.

  • ||

    Are you done making fun of OUR league?

    Long live the CFL and its import rules!

  • Jinx Ovaltine, Jr.||

    +2 50-yard lines

  • Faceless Woodchipper||

    Do they even have "yards" in Canada?

  • ||

    55 yard lines!

  • Faceless Woodchipper||

    In fairness, you can't say "fuck" on the networks. Fear not, bepenised libertarians--Ms. Cuthbert may take her clothes off yet. (Or beware--Sam Elliott may take off his.)

  • kinnath||

    Sam Elliot was fucking awesome in Justified last season.

  • Mickey Rat||

    So it is the future history of Johnny Manziel?

  • SugarFree||

    His parents aren't going to let him move back in.

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    They bought him a C-Class for his high school graduation. They won't let him move back in, they'll buy him his own rehab facility. With blackjack and hookers.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    an occasional arm thrust up the cervix of a cow

    That reminds me, I haven't watched City Slickers in a while.

  • cgr2727||

    an occasional arm thrust up the cervix of a cow

    Hey, what were you doing with (insert H&R commenter's name) mom last night?

  • Bra Ket||

    Next come the reality shows, then eventually we'll be saying "remember when netflix used to have movies".

  • This Machine||

    I'll take the shows over the movies now, seeing's how many movies Netflix doesn't have in their roster anymore. Can you believe they're getting rid of Lord of War? Lord of War! It's easily one of Nicolas Cage's top 3 movies of all time!

    At any rate, the shows are pretty good, more or less.

  • Tuan Jim||

    I've seen that the streaming ones cycle somewhat frequently. Besides, you could always pay an extra $8/month and get discs delivered too. Breaks the bank I know.....

  • Aresen||

    "Nicolas Cage's top 3 movies of all time!"

    That is a low bar.

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  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    So it's a less funny version of Eastbound and Down?

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "there are lots of less profitable ways to spend half an hour with your TV, many of which do not even involve a Kardashian."

    I think I had an extra-credit English assignment which involved diagramming a sentence like that.

  • pan fried wylie||

    What if providing some bland crap is key to drawing a large enough audience to afford the cooler stuff.

    Kinda like that recent prog complaint about not enough lefty biopics. Well, because there's not a large enough audience to successfully launch "Netflix for Prog Garbage". Sure, I'm nerdy enough to keep paying for netflix for access to Clone Wars and the rest of their nerd catalog, but I'm only one man.

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