There’s something about Netflix’s new comedy The Ranch that makes it feel like a throwback, and it’s not that it’s recorded — f-bombs and all — in front of a studio audience.
It’s that there’s actually time.
Time for an entire theme song (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” performed by Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson).
Time for conversations that are more than a setup for the next joke.
Time to tell stories that can live on after the laughter’s died down.
That’s what’s possible when a multicamera show isn’t written around commercial breaks and is allowed to run well past the 21 minutes or so most network half-hours now get.
Two and a Half Men veterans Jim Patterson and Don Reo have mostly made good use of that extra time in The Ranch, a show that reunites them with Ashton Kutcher (and Kutcher with That ’70s Show costar Danny Masterson).
The first 10 episodes, premiering Friday on Netflix, introduce Kutcher as prodigal son Colt Bennett, a former high school football star who returns home to help on the ranch where his father, Beau (Sam Elliott), and brother Jameson (Masterson), known as “Rooster,” are barely making ends meet.
Debra Winger plays Colt and Rooster’s mother, whose on-again, off-again relationship with their father is one of several in the show that prove more interesting than they look at first.
The Ranch isn’t perfect. Colt’s stupidity is sometimes exaggerated to the point you wonder how he doesn’t walk into walls and there’s a Two and a Half Men relentlessness to the sex jokes that can grow old.
But the Bennetts feel real, and so, surprisingly, does their ranch, even if it’s just a stage set. (Lighting, and sometimes the lack of lighting, appears to be key.)
By the end of 10 episodes, a young woman who’d first looked like a one-episode punchline had a history and a personality and even a possible future.
Given time, anyone can surprise you.