Netflix's cheap insults fail to pass as comedy
WITH so much good television to watch I'd almost forgotten that bad telly is still being regularly spat out.
I'm not talking about the fecal discharge of reality dreck here. As that crap is thrown up in our faces every damn day you're not ever given a chance to forget about it.
At this point I hate The Bachelor coverage more than I hate the actual Bachelor. I can easily not watch the show but the endless barrage of news items, recaps and think pieces on this crud is impossible to ignore. No matter how hard you try. And believe me I try.
Instead, when I talk about bad telly I'm talking about dross like The Ranch, the latest original series from Netflix.
I went into it impartial, ignorant and happy. All I knew was that it was a comedy and I liked comedies. I pressed play.
The Ranch starts off promisingly enough. A country singer crooned and twanged about cowboys as the Stars and Stripes billowed proudly over a craggy small town and inspiring glory shots of America's dusty frontier. A beat-up pickup truck travelled down an endless road and the name Ashton Kutcher faded in.
That was the precise moment my expectations began to drop.
To be fair, the dude does do a good buffoon. But Kutcher is not a name you associate with comedic quality.
Still, you don't judge a book by its cover and you don't judge a show by its star. I mean, who in blazes would have picked Malcolm in the Middle's bumbling dad Bryan Cranston to play a coldly calculating and convincing meth lord in Breaking Bad? I let the credits roll.
This was a decision I immediately regretted once the show started. It's said laughter is the best medicine but when it's the grating, rip-snorting guffaws of the canned variety, then laughter is more like a noxious venereal disease, dripping with infection and desperate to spread.
Unlike the canned audience I did not dissolve into shaking, uncontrollable fits of hilarity every time a character finished a sentence. Instead I laughed only when someone said something amusing.
For 30 minutes I sat stony-faced on my couch, the howls and shrieks of the anonymous audience filling my ears. They were clearly having the time of their lives as the time of mine slipped away. I wished I was watching the same show as them. But I wasn't. I was watching The Ranch. I was watching the great acting chops of Debra Winger and Sam Elliott wasted on a cheap yuck-fest and I was watching Kutcher stick his arm up a cow's vagina. Oh, the hilarity.
The show is about Kutcher's second-tier football hero returning to the struggling family farm and resolving his daddy issues. It treads a familiar path, showing that the family that fights together stays together despite the formulaic tweak of the parents being estranged-with-benefits.
At its heart, The Ranch is just a mean-spirited, schmaltzy sitcom. Meaning there's life lessons to be learned and hugs to be had, but all the gags and humour stem from one character saying something deeply unpleasant to another.
This is not smart, witty writing. This is cheap putdowns, dumb sarcasm and plain ol' insults masquerading as comedy.
In the right hands those elements can make for incredibly funny viewing. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has the most despicable and purposefully unpleasant characters in television history, yet it remains one of the most hilarious shows on the box. The Ranch thinks milking a gag about Kutcher's arm smelling of cow genitalia is the height of hilarity.
In the comedy space Netflix had been firing. They've had progressive and very funny hits with Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as well as bold, if not entirely successful, experiments like Love and Flaked.
The Ranch is from a very different school, displaying none of their smarts, ambition or modern sensibilities.
It's co-created by the executive producer of Two and a Half Men, another nasty, juvenile show, which sums it all up, really. It's a dumb, obvious, old-fashioned sitcom that, like the titular ranch itself, is dying.
The show wants to pull on your heartstrings but it also wants to insult you and stick its hand up your privates. That might be your idea of a good time but it's not mine.