Thursday, July 14, 2016

“Outlander” Is One of the Best Shows on Television

At the same time HBO was giving us the best season of Game of Thrones, Starz was airing the second season of Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon's best-selling time travel novels set in 18th century Scotland. Both are fantastic shows, and it’s too bad they have to air around the same time, leaving us in a desolate TV wasteland now that both seasons have ended. 

I’ve always been meaning to write a post on Outlander, which is incredibly well acted and well done. But unlike Game of Thrones, with all of its mysteries and fan theories, I never found the right angle with Outlander, and I still haven’t. Fortunately, two great articles on the series were recently posted, so at least I can point you to them. 

The first article by Alison Herman at The Ringer is titled “‘Outlander’ is the Grossest Romance on TV.” And while the title may not be flattering, the article sure is. Here’s an excerpt, but you can read the whole thing here:
Created by Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore, the show takes a historically trivialized genre — several, really — and maximizes it. But Outlander doesn’t pointedly avoid tropes á la Game of Thrones, whose success can sometimes feel like a backhanded compliment to its fantasy origins. It leans into them: yearslong investment in a multilayered relationship, equally developed male and female leads, and yes, sex scenes grounded in a woman’s perspective.
Outlander does all these things better than any other drama on cable, and the internet has responded accordingly. But the stuff that sets Outlander apart from the rest of the pack doesn’t come at the expense of Serious Television values like realism and nuance. That’s because Outlander is also one of the most gory, raw, and violent shows on television, often more so than the gritty, fatalist dramas that typically serve as its foils. To say so doesn’t qualify its core romanticism — it augments it.

The second article, from Katherine Trendacosta at io9, is titled “How Outlander Made a Show Without Any Surprises So Damn Good.” You can read the whole article here, but here’s an excerpt:
In a time travel show, the obvious way of surprising audiences would be to have the characters actually change history, and it’s something our heroes have tried really, really hard to accomplish. But history seems to be locked in Outlander, and thus so is the plot—and no matter the superficial differences from the novels, Outlander still puts its characters exactly where we know they’ll end up.
So instead of relying on surprises, Outlander has placed a huge burden on its characters. The writers have to make sure they are rich and complicated and then the actors have to make us believe it. And they’ve done a superb job.
* * *
By focusing on its characters, Outlander has made a show where nothing in the plot surprises us—who really thought Jamie would be dead?—but the characters still keep us riveted. Which is why we’re all dying for season three.
There’s much more to both articles, which is why you should read them in full. And if you haven’t started watching Outlander, you really should. After all, what else is there to do in this TV wasteland?

PS, I’m trying to fill the void by binge watching all three seasons of The Borgias. Just finished season one, and enjoyed it. And you can’t beat all the scenes set in early Renaissance Rome!

** Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

1 comment:

Bill said...

I have never watched, Joe. Perhaps I will catch up on demand.