Netflix original shows can quickly get weird, like the quirks of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” or oddities of “BoJack Horseman.” But the streaming service might have outdone itself with “The Ranch,” which debuts Friday.
What makes “The Ranch” so strange? After all, it seems like your basic sitcom: Ashton Kutcher stars as Colt, a failed semi-pro football player who moves home to Colorado to help his estranged father, Beau (Sam Elliott), and his brother, Rooster (Danny Masterson), run the family ranch. Beau’s ex-wife, Maggie, shows up when she’s not running the local bar.
Still, this show is bizarre, and not just because it has a character named Rooster. Here’s why:
1. The swearing.
“The Ranch” is an old-fashioned sitcom in every sense of the term, meaning it’s a multi-cam with … a laugh track! Yes, the device that has practically gone extinct unless you’re a comedy on CBS. However, this is a show on Netflix, which has zero language restrictions — so the characters can use curse words as much they want. Sample dialogue from the pilot when Colt’s dad, Beau (a gruff conservative who hates President Obama and doesn’t believe in climate change) spots his furry Uggs:
Beau: “What the f—‘s on your feet?”
Colt: “They’re boots.”
Beau: “Those are not boots.”
Colt: “They’re Uggs. That’s Australian for boots.”
Beau: “They’re lady shoes.”
Colt: “Well, Tom Brady wears them.”
Beau: “Well, Tom Brady gets away with a lot of s—.”
[uproarious canned laughter]
Later, Colt’s mom asks him the same question. At the end of the episode, with the whole family gathered around together, Maggie cheerfully states, “If someone took a picture of us, they’d never know how f–ed up we really were.” In all cases, it’s quite unsettling to hear f-bombs followed by the chuckles from the studio audience in a laugh track.
At the Television Critics’ Association press tour panel this winter, the executive producers admitted they were excited to use adult language on a multi-cam sitcom, simply because it never happens. “We were specifically talking about the ‘f’ word and how we were going to use it judiciously, and we would really take our time to pick a spot. We lasted two pages,” said executive producer Don Reo.
“Danny and Ashton, you know, being brothers, would give each other a hard time and screw around with one another. So it just felt like it was being false to the show and to the audience if they just said, like, ‘freakin’ or ‘fricken,’ you know,” added co-exec producer Jim Patterson. “And, again, the freedom that Netflix allows … we don’t want to overuse it, but we want to keep it as real as possible as well.”
2. The mind-meld of Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson together on another sitcom.
At times, the tone is so similar it truly feels like you’re watching an episode of “That ’70s Show” that happens to be on a ranch. In this case, instead of being goofy friends Kelso and Hyde, Kutcher plays the brother that everyone thought would go on to be a football star and Masterson is the brother who bummed around the family ranch since high school. The two real-life pals have wanted to collaborate on another project since “That ’70s Show” ended in 2006, and they were excited to bring back some of their old comedic chemistry.
Masterson tried to explain this at TCA, saying, “Our favorite stuff on ”70s Show’ is the Hyde-Kelso relationship of domination and —”
“Abuse,” Kutcher cut in.
“Abuse,” Masterson continued. “So … when this show was coming together, it was kind of like, let’s find adult versions of those guys and a little more realistic, but keeping that dynamic of how [our] comedy works together.”
3. The lighting.
This might sound like a tiny detail, though unlike most laugh-tracked comedies, “The Ranch” doesn’t have that glossy bright sitcom look, which is a bit jarring.
This dark lighting is intentional. At the TCA panel, a reporter noted “multi-cam sort of abhors darkness, and you guys seem to be steering into darkness in a lot of cases.” Producers said that, like using swear words, it’s all in an effort to be real.
“If you get up in the morning, you turn on one light maybe, and you wander downstairs, and eventually some of the lights come on. But, you know, you live in the shadows,” Patterson said. “When it’s night out, the moon doesn’t always perfectly go through the window and light up someone’s face. And so we wanted to try to make it as realistic as possible on a stage.”
Kutcher agreed that a goal for the show was to swivel from other shows. “Ultimately what we want to do is, like, break the convention of sitcom and say, it doesn’t have to be brightly lit,” he said. “That has only been a choice of the creators of sitcom over time.”
“Why can’t you put music underneath a scene in a sitcom?” Kutcher continued — indeed, the show uses Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” at the end of the episode, which indeed seems out of place on a multi-cam. “Because people don’t generally do it doesn’t mean you can’t do it successfully. And so there are a lot of those just basic conventions that Netflix has given us the liberty to break.”
Hank Stuever contributed to this report.