‘The Ranch’ Season One Part Two: Gone as a Girl Can Get (Review)

Sam Elliot and Barry Corbin in The Ranch

The Ranch, season one part two  has started on Netflix.  It picks up where part one left off, Abby has told Colt that she is not sure that marrying Kenny is the right thing to do and Maggie is still gone. Two of the Bennett men have “girl” trouble and even worse, the show still feels uneven and unfunny.

Sam Elliott (a personal favorite) still feels like he is in a different show.  Kutcher and Masterson both act like they are re-creating their roles from That ’70’s Show and veteran character actor Barry Corbin is the only one of the cast who can bridge the gap.

There are so many things wrong with this series that it is hard to imagine Netflix bringing it back.  Shot on a set, rather than on-location, the format feels as fake as Bonanza used to once audiences became more sophisticated.

The Ranch could still work despite the feeling that we are watching a badly written play.  However the humor is forced and stale. Perhaps it comes across better to people who work in that demographic. Ranch hands, or cowboys may be “splitting a gut.”

Sadly the whole thing still feels off and despite trying to be a dramedy, the show misses any chance to work honest emotion.  When Beau cries at the end of the episode, one feels that it is really Sam Elliott shedding those tears for agreeing to come back to this mess.

Normally, when watching someone like Beau, a real old fashioned sort of “man’s man,” trying to ignore the tears spilling down his cheeks, a lump the size of Texas will hit the old throat.  This time, however, Beau’s pain is disregarded by the series’ writers and the director.

Beau grits out, “Am I that hard to live with?”  Rooster answers back with bland one-liners that are supported by a laugh track. (This may not be pre-recorded laughter but it certainly feels like it.)

The answer is obvious. Of course he is.  Part one set that up.  Because Bennett is an old fashioned type of guy.  He is unbending and finds it hard to reach out or even express himself freely.

It is why Colt left to begin with and why Maggie has left him again. Beau may be coming to a realization too late that he is now reaping what he spent a lifetime sowing.

He is resistant to change and says so when Dale stops by to vaccinate the calves.

Colt is still on the fence about Abby and by the end of the episode, despite her deciding to marry Kenny, lock lips on her porch. Unfortunately this was signposted so prominently in the episode it comes as no surprise.

We have, in fact, been aware that this relationship was going to be rekindled from part one of the Ranch. This is just one of the examples of how the series is all too predictable.

Of course the main problem is that the show tries to combine comedy with drama in a ham-fisted fashion.  Using vapid and dated one-liners to sell the humor against the very real portrayal of a man having more than his fair share of hard times.

Elliott is the very picture of gravitas in any role he plays.  He is the odd man out here. (Just as three time Oscar nominee Debra Winger is the odd woman out.)  Two fine actors who deliver more often than not.

Unfortunately the hackneyed humor detracts from their performances. The jokes are like those horrid and unfunny gags pulled on The Grand Ole Opry; stale and uncomfortable. The kind of comedy that gets the odd chuckle and an urge for the performer to stop messing about and just sing.

The first episode of The Ranch Part Two  is still struggling to entertain.  Like a clumsy dance partner the show is treading on the audience’s toes and expecting them to laugh about it.

The Ranch is streaming on Netflix at the moment. All 10 episode are available to watch in one go, or two.

Cast:

Christian Bale as Travis McGee? What the Fudge?

Christian Bale in promo shot

Okay, just when you thought that the worst casting decision in the world was Marky Mark as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film, Hollywood chucks one out that is breathtakingly bad. Christian Bale as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Really??

What the fudge people.

After this initial sense of outrage, disbelief and shock, it turns out that the movie is in a sort of “development hell.” The movie was first touted as a vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio as long ago as 2010/11 and resurfaced again in 2013. Scheduling problems took the Wolf Of Wall Street star off the picture and the last word was that Bale was being considered for the role of “salvage consultant” beach bum McGee.

Rosamund Pike, (Gone Girl) is now attached to the project and while that may be good news, the fact that Bale’s name is still associated with the film is not. It was the news of Pike’s connection to the movie that pointed out Bales as being the new McGee. One thing to cling to, however, is that Fox do not really seem to know what they are doing with this property.

From the very start, it looks like the studios have never read any of the superb John D. MacDonald’s series, first publicity blurbs talk of a “World War II” film. Trav was a Korean War vet, although later in the series this became a sort of “open to interpretation” as to which war he had participated. The time settings of the latter stories made the Vietnam War more likely than the big WWII.

At least twice Travis McGee and his best friend Meyer (an economist) have been portrayed on film. Australian actor Rod Taylor on the big screen and laconic actor Sam Elliott on television have both played the beach bum with a penchant for women “who are broken birds.” While both actors did a good job, Taylor seemed a better fit for the role in terms of physicality.

For the audio versions of the stories, TV’s old Mike Hammer, and later Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin voiced McGee and became, for many, the perfect embodiment of MacDonald’s hero.

In the books, the author described McGee as a big man with sandy hair and “spit colored eyes.” The idea of Christian Bale, with his “tortured” air and intensity, playing the McGee is almost sacrilege. Perhaps in terms of size and delivery, Dick Van Dyke’s son Barry (Diagnosis Murder) comes closest to fitting McGee than any other actor out there.

Unfortunately with names like Bale and, now, Rosamund Pike being touted for the big screen version of The Deep Blue Goodbye, Van Dyke will never get a look in. The other downside is that at 63, Barry is far too long in the tooth to play the Florida bachelor. There may be other younger actors who would be a better fit than Bale, but in terms of box office he will be the stronger choice, as was DiCaprio initially.

Why the Batman actor is being considered for the role is mystifying. His latest film, where he depicts a tortured and intense Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, proves that he cannot escape his usual style of performance even when portraying a biblical figure. At least on that film, he did not come unglued and scream at a technician on set.

It is a shame that the Fox project, which had the talented Dennis Lehane writing the script, cannot come up with a better choice for the role of Travis. Even Leonard DiCaprio, the studio’s initial casting, was not a good fit. Too young and not physical enough. No arguments with the casting of Rosamund Pike at all at this point but, please Fox, pick someone else to play McGee.

Sadly, it seems that Hollywood will most probably not get this one right. This is not too dissimilar to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, played for laughs by Dean Martin, where perfect casting for a more serious version of the American James Bond proved elusive. No one actor really fit the bill and it looks like Travis McGee may well suffer the same celluloid casting fate.

McGee had a quality that kept the reader coming back and wanting him to find the perfect mate. By the last book, The Lonely Silver Rain, Trav had a daughter and Meyer was delighted to see his friend become more mature. Sadly it was the last McGee adventure to be written. MacDonald, a prolific writer, was taken back by the muses and at least one reader cried tears of loss after learning that “McGee” was dead.

The author died in 1986 and was the same creative genius who wrote Cape Fear, made twice into a film, as well as The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, and a slew of other novels and short story collections on top of some works of non fiction.

The news of Christian Bale being considered for the role of McGee does tend to make one wail in disbelief and scream out “What the Fudge?” However, it is nice to think that this evergreen character, who has been around since the 1960s, is interesting enough to still be considered a good property for the big screen. All one can ask is that a better candidate than Bale be cast at the end of the day.

And of course there is still the issue of Meyer. Knowing Hollywood, they will probably make the best friend a skinny woman thus changing the entire purpose of the economist. This project still seems to be stuck in developmental hell for the time being, despite Pike’s being “cast.” Hopefully scheduling conflicts will negate the American Hustle actor becoming the latest casting mistake in Tinseltown.