Many people enjoyed Netflix’s Outer Banks, but I didn’t. Not initially, at least.
I wasn’t drawn into the teen drama or hooked by the mystery and romance the way I had been with other shows I’ve binge-watched in the past (Money Heist had me glued to the TV screen for days on end).
It was surprising considering Outer Banks had all the characteristics of the type of show I would enjoy — it was a teen drama, a murder mystery, and a treasure hunt all wrapped up into one.
Despite my disinterest following the first episode, I proceeded to click the “next episode” and strapped in for the ride. Why? Mainly because I’m the kind of TV watcher who has to finish anything she commits to, but also because I’d heard some rave reviews of the show from some friends whose opinion I trust when it comes to television.
So, there I was watching Outer Banks every evening for a straight week, and it wasn’t until about the sixth episode when the action began to pick up and pique my interest. Six episodes.
Still, even then, I couldn’t pin down what bothered me about the series, so I coasted along through the 10-episode run until it finally dawned on me — the series was a cluttered mess… more cluttered than John B’s man-cave/humble abode.
Credit: Outer Banks/ Netflix
The show lacked identity and direction; Outer Banks didn’t know what it wanted to be, and, as a result, it tried to be everything all at once.
The series was supposed to focus on a legendary treasure hunt that linked to the disappearance of John B’s father, but the treasure hunt fizzled out quicker than it started and played like a secondary plot to other, less appealing, storylines. It was overshadowed by melodramatic teen romances reminiscent of the WB days unfolding between many of the characters. There’s nothing wrong with a love story — TV shows are fueled by young love and more importantly, the oft exasperated love triangle, but these romances stumbled, felt forced, and made the series, a series that had the potential to distinguish itself from all the teen-soaps, lose focus.
There were so many plot avenues — the series was about teens from the wrong side of the tracks, but it was also about teens looking for one last summer hoorah before reality (and adulthood) set in. There was the class clash between the haves and the have nots aka the poor kids, the Pogues, and the rich kids, the Kooks. On top of that, there was John B’s desire to avenge whoever wronged his father and a C-plot with a classic camp horror villain that wasn’t well crafted at all.
There were bits and pieces of many TV shows and movies you’ve seen before and a blend of varying genres in an attempt to invoke some kind of feeling of nostalgia or familiarity (or possibly, to appeal to a wide variety of audiences), but they all kept getting in each other’s way and cutting each other off in a way that prevented storylines from exploring their full potential.
The phrase “quality over quantity” comes to mind here as the series would’ve flowed better if it was oversimplified and lax — just like the attitude of the Pogues. If there had been less moving pieces, the series could’ve honed in deeper on story progression and character development, the latter which truly suffered.
One thing became evident — Outer Banks was a series about misfit genres that banded together just like the Pogues that ran the show set in the coastal island of North Carolina.
That lack of direction trickled down to the characters, many of whom were one-dimensional. Aside from JJ (Rudy Pankow), the characters didn’t drive the plot, but were instead driven by the plot.
Pope (Jonathan Daviss) simply kept reminding everyone that he needed to stay out of trouble because of his scholarship, while Kiara’s (Madison Bailey) spunky, rebellious and independent streak fell flat when she was reduced to being the object of desire for the dudes.
And don’t get me started on the Cameron family, which was basically non-existent sans for Sarah and Ward. Sarah was bearable with charm and personality, but Ward was the one that disappointed me the most.
Played by Nashville’s Charles Esten, he was easily the most recognizable face on the cast, and if his character had been stronger, he could’ve rivaled Hiram Lodge for “TV villain.”
But there was only so much Esten could do and despite his thrilling performance, it was hard to get past the fact that his character lacked any depth — he was a villain because the plot called for it, but there wasn’t much thought behind what made him as evil.
The series didn’t try attempt to paint Ward in an innocent light, so when he was unmasked as not only the man responsible for the murder of John B’s father but also, the one targeting John B and his friends to get to the treasure, it wasn’t shocking or surprising.
His actions were clear, but his motivations were murky, which isn’t something you want for a TV villain. Bad guys succeed and lure in audiences because they are nuanced and have harrowing backstories. They are layered, bruised, and broken, and even then, they usually have a shred of humanity — something redeemable to hang onto even if they don’t make a full twist to “good guy” by the time the show has finished.
Ward had none of that. He was simply a bad dad who did bad things, tried to cover them up by doing more bad things, showed no remorse, and went on with his life like it didn’t matter.
Since the series stretched out the action and finished on a cliffhanger for season 2, maybe the series will dig deeper into Ward’s character in the next go-around?
But hopefully, Outer Banks season 2 won’t feel as though you need John B’s treasure map to make sense of what’s happening and which plot is taking precedence.