Escape with Young Adult Drama Outer Banks on Netflix

You may not be able to leave the house or get anywhere near the beautiful people that populate Netflix’s “Outer Banks,” but the streaming service hopes that makes you more enticed by the escapist potential of this inconsistent but generally fun young adult drama. Premiering on Wednesday, "Outer Banks" is about teenagers caught up in a treasure hunt while battling class inequity at the same time. Yeah, it’s a lot. Most young adult shows are. But the young cast here is surprisingly charismatic. Maybe I took to this goofy guilty pleasure more than I would have if I had left the house in the last month, but most of you are in the same boat too. Consider it ‘Pandemic Worthy.’

“Riverdale” meets “Bloodline” in this often earnestly silly drama about a group of friends who hang out in the titular area of the North Carolina country. These genetically blessed modern Goonies call themselves The Pogues (no relation to the band) and include charmer John B (Chase Stokes), troublemaker JJ (Rudy Pankow), reliable Pope (Jonathan Daviss) and loyal Kiara (Madison Bailey). They try to avoid the wealthy types who dot the ocean landscape and the tourists who flock there, and soon stumble upon a mystery that could involve buried treasure and even the secret to the disappearance of John B.’s dad. Of course, there’s also a bit of Romeo & Juliet action with one of the non-Pogue rich girls named Sarah (Madelyn Cline), and a number of other subplots involving untrustworthy adults. You can never trust the grown-ups on a show like this one. Of course.

The success of a show like “Outer Banks” relies heavily on casting. We will forgive mediocre writing if we enjoy hanging out with the characters delivering such B-grade dialogue, and that’s mostly the case with this pleasant diversion. I could easily see more than one member of this solid young ensemble eventually breaking out into something special, including Stokes, Bailey, and especially Cline, who practically steals the show. The cast is what is going to draw people to "Outer Banks" because the plotting just isn’t that engaging. If anything, I wanted it to be more ridiculous a la the underrated "Riverdale." It too often spins its wheels, returning to similar arguments and dramas between the Pogues and the rich kids for the first half of the season. If you’ve seen one fight between a preppy boyfriend and the guy from the wrong side of the tracks trying to steal his girl, you’ve seen ‘em all.

And the actual mystery of “Outer Banks” takes way too long to build up steam. By the middle of the season, the Pogues are still too distracted to push the narrative forward, and then the opposite problem happens with the final three episodes feeling downright hyperactive. A show like this needs to fly so fast early on that you put your critical faculties away, whereas “Outer Banks” often just drifts along the shore, admiring the scenery, and repeating the same hazy dilemmas until it gets to the "good stuff." However, and maybe it’s because my aforementioned critical faculties have been dimmed by seeing nothing but my backyard for a month, I didn’t mind the quick trip to the east coast, and spending time with some of the memorable people there. I imagine I won’t be alone in needing that escape. 

Whole season screened for review.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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