Honestly, I probably would not have chosen to watch the premiere of the Starz network’s new drama ‘Outlander’ on my own. However, my wife insisted, and since the show promised some time travel and other fantasy elements, I consented to give it a shot. While it’s not as bad as it might have been, I’m not quite sold on it yet.
Given that just about every new TV series on the air these days is based on some old movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if a small segment of the viewing audience assumed that ‘Outlander’ might be adapted from the Jim Caviezel sci-fi cheesefest of the same name from a few years ago. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Don’t get me wrong, the show has plenty of its own cheese, but no Vikings fighting aliens so far. Instead, the series is based on a book franchise by Diana Gabaldon. Mrs. Z has read and enjoyed the first novel, and looked forward to the TV version.
The show is produced by Ronald D. Moore, creator of the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ reboot. Caitriona Balfe (‘Now You See Me’) stars as Claire Randall, a British army nurse who, in the months following the end of World War II, has returned from the front lines and insists on celebrating a second honeymoon to reconnect with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies from ‘Game of Thrones’), whom she hasn’t seen in almost five years. Because Frank is a history professor and genealogy buff, he suggests that they travel to rural Scotland to trace his family tree. For her part, Claire is happy enough to go anywhere that the pace is slow and people aren’t getting blown to pieces around her. Also, she’s super, super horny, all the time, and doesn’t really care where they go so long as they can sneak off into a corner every five minutes to screw.
Sadly, Frank is just about the dullest man who has ever lived. Claire doesn’t seem to mind, at least not at first, but that will no doubt change. After spending about half the episode sightseeing, screwing, getting her tea leaves and palm read by a local woman, screwing, touring the ruins of an old castle, screwing, and spying on a Druid ritual on the night before pagan Halloween, Claire returns to the site of the ritual to pick some flowers, touches an ancient stone, and passes out. She wakes up a minute later to find Redcoats running through the forest shooting at things, including herself. Confused, she tries to run toward the town, which doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Instead, she bumps into her husband Frank, wearing a ridiculous old-timey military uniform and acting like a total prick. In fact, he’s not her husband at all, but rather Frank’s great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandfather “Black Jack” Randall, a notorious evil bastard. It’s a good thing that Frank conveniently filled her in on stories about this guy just the day before.
So there you have the premise. Claire has slipped through time back to the 18th Century. It takes her an awfully long time to piece this together for herself, which is kind of annoying. To be fair, as a lady of the 1940s, she probably wasn’t raised on a pop-culture diet of comic books and sci-fi movies about time travel.
When Black Jack tries to rape her, Claire is rescued by a band of Scottish freedom fighters, one of whom is particularly studly. I predict that they’ll start boning by the next episode. I’m kind of surprised that didn’t happen in this one already. Instead, because the Scots inherently distrust this crazy British woman, she has to use her nursing skills to patch them up and the knowledge of local history she learned from Frank to help them avoid a Redcoat ambush. As the episode ends, they bring her to their castle fortress, which just so happens to be the same castle that was in ruins the last time Claire saw it. Ohhhh, now she gets it.
Essentially, this is a bodice-ripping trashy romance novel gussied up with classy production values and a sci-fi twist. The pilot episode takes far too long to establish the time travel premise, and quite frankly the entire first half is incredibly boring. Things pick up in the second half, where it becomes a lot sillier and at least slightly more entertaining. The sex and nudity is laughably gratuitous throughout, even by Starz standards, and feels shoehorned in as if by a network mandate to put boobs on screen every few minutes.
If it were just me, I would probably not watch further on my own. Because the missus has more of an interest, I’ve agreed to check out the next couple of episodes to see if the show gets any better. I’ve certainly sat through worse things, and I can’t blame them all on my wife.