[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of Netflix’s Outer Banks. Read at your own risk!]
Sometimes, the stars align just right and the perfect TV show blesses us to satisfy a peculiar craving. For instance, in these [waves hands around in the air with look of terror and exhaustion on face] “uncertain and trying” times, I can’t get enough of two specific types of series: funny, heartwarming romantic comedies and off-their-rocker insanely soapy dramas. Parks and Recreation and Schitt’s Creek do more than enough to meet the demands of the first. The second one has been a bit trickier to fill, but nonetheless I’ve pressed on, looking for fictional insanity to distract me from real-life insanity. Something that would make me yell “What in the actual hell?” at my screen multiple times, something that would make me howl with laughter over the absurdity and gasp with shock over delightfully insane plot twists. And that, my friends, is how I ended up completely devouring Netflix’s new teen soap Outer Banks in a few both blessed and harrowing days.
If you came to this corner of the interwebs because you, too, finished Outer Banks and were questioning your sanity, welcome, you are safe here, Pogue Life forever. If you have arrived after giving the first episode or two a shot and think I’ve completely lost it, I mean, yeah, maybe.
If you only stick with Outer Banks for the first couple of episodes, you will not see it unfurl to its fullest, escapist, WTF-potential. And therein lies one of the show’s greatest problems: It needs to be crazier, sooner.
The story begins nine months after the mysterious disappearance of our protagonist, John B’s (Chase Stokes), father, as John B enlists his friends, Kiara (Madison Bailey), Pope (Jonathan Daviss) and JJ (Rudy Pankow), to help him track down $400 million in buried treasure and some answers to his father’s fate. In the beginning, the series feels very reminiscent of teen shows of yore. I mean that both in general — like so many teen shows, these “teens” are improbably good-looking and definitely older than 16 — but also specifically: There are the coastal vibes and the working class kids versus rich kids tensions — here it’s John B and The Pogues versus guys in polos named things like “Rafe” (Drew Starkey) and “Topper” (Austin North) who are called “The Kooks” — that both early One Tree Hill and The O.C. played with; the “rich girl falls for guy from the wrong side of the tracks” arc à la Gossip Girl; and a brooding mystery at the center of it all, like Riverdale and Elite. Those familiar elements paired with some brutal voiceover (don’t worry, that disappears for no reason eventually) and some less-than-fully developed characters (Pope is the smart one! Kiara is the voice of reason! Sarah [Madelyn Cline] is the rich girl who wants to save mice?) make for a rather clumsy takeoff for a soapy binge that, in case you couldn’t tell, I very much want you to embark upon.
So, forget the first few episodes. They are boring as hell — which is saying something since to kick things off, a hurricane that strips OBX of power and cell service brings dead bodies to the shore and the Pogues and Kooks get into multiple near-fatal fights, and a dad tells his daughter that if “you hang out with trash, you get dirty” with a straight face — and even I, lover of angst and tolerator of cheese, was ready to give up. But I didn’t. One of the things this show does right from the very beginning is use the Netflix auto-play to its advantage. Um, yes, I would like to know what John B’s father left him as a clue in their ancestor’s mausoleum, OK? I am only human. Guys, I’ve never been so grateful that I pushed through some questionable episodes, because I was profoundly rewarded with ridiculousness that was, quite simply, a delight.
The shift happens in Episode 4. It is just the tip of the insanity iceberg as this 10-episode series unravels, but two elements clued me in to the fact that I had made the right decision in seeing this through: First, John B and Sarah follow their treasure hunt clues to the archives at Chapel Hill, and although there are 700 other things going on, including $400 mil just out there for the taking, these two have time for a cutesy shopping trip montage before deciding they are in love and they don’t care who knows it. That is a set of priorities, both for the characters and the show, that I appreciate.
Secondly, by the end of the episode, Pope is about to be arrested for purposefully sinking Topper’s boat. Instead, JJ takes the blame, knowing an arrest would ruin Pope’s chance at a scholarship, which is literally the only thing Pope talks about (in one of my favorite dialogue exchanges, Kiara and Pope are fighting about helping John B and she yells, “This is about friendship! This is about Pogues for life!” and he yells back, “What about forensic pathology?!” It is a blessed moment). Suddenly, I felt liquid coming out of my eyes. And then I knew that I had somehow become emotionally attached to these teens. I had given my mind, body, and soul over to this wackadoodle operation and I was OK with it. Why not let myself be consumed by something silly to distract myself from, again, [waves hands around in the air]? Why not escape for just a little bit? It feels so good.
The thing you’ll never know about Outer Banks if you give up on it too early is just how fast it escalates in the last five episodes. The above plot points seem like they could appear in any high-intensity episodes of another teen soap. What happens after that is just Outer Banks really going for it. They finally reveal what you may have suspected, that Ward Cameron (Charles Esten), Sarah’s dad, is the villain. He’s very involved in the disappearance of John B’s father and he’s very interested in that gold. Esten goes all in, which is really the only way to make this work: commitment. Honestly, at some points, I was rooting for Ward to succeed — and that includes the time when he lures John B out on a boat in the middle of the ocean and proceeds to have a speargun fight and then almost mow him down with his yacht while the kid flees on a Jet Ski. Truly, what a time. The hijinks in the last five episodes are something to cherish, including but definitely not limited to: A van versus plane tarmac chase, an honestly shocking murder on said tarmac, an unhinged drug dealer, a merit scholarship interview, an emotional breakdown in a hot tub, several conversations about the North Star, an island-wide man hunt, two teen boys trying to describe what love is during that man hunt, and yes, even a boat chase leading directly into the middle of a tropical depression.
Yes, the dialogue is cheesy (what does a teen think love feels like? “Like getting struck by lightning and not getting burnt”) but the cast does their best to sell it. The plot takes some real leaps, but you know what? Sometimes just enjoying the ride without thinking about it too much is all that really matters. Also, I didn’t come after you for all that Tiger King bullsh–, so let me have my fun, OK?
Outer Banks Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.