If Netflix’s new sitcom The Ranch is to be approached as a That ’70s Show reunion (and why else would they hire Ashton Kutcher and Danny “He Played Hyde” Masterson to star?), then it’s a sparsely attended and sad one. Mila Kunis, Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, and Wilmer Valderrama all apparently had stuff going on, namely movies, bad movies, other Netflix series, and hosting game shows on MTV, respectively. But Hyde and Kelso both made it out West for a return to the laugh-tracked, well-lit, multi-camera sitcom format that made them all stars. They’re joined by Debra Winger and the living embodiment of the American West, Sam Elliott, in a new program that looks like a return to the style so lovingly embraced during the ’90s and early ’00s.
In what we can only assume is a bit of brutal metatextual commentary, Kutcher dejectedly returns to the realm of TV after failing to live out his dreams of big-screen stardom in the role of a one-time football star dejectedly returning to his hometown after failing to live out his dreams of NFL stardom. The prodigal son comes home to the family farm, where time has essentially stood still for his brother Rooster (Masterson) and his parents, Beau and Maggie (Elliott and Winger). Creators Don Reo and Jim Patterson appear to be up to the same tricks that made the Two And A Half Men producers so successful their last time around: broad humor with mild gay-panic undertones, stock character dynamics, and a braying audience to ensure that the folks at home know when to laugh. It’s weird to see fodder like this and last winter’s The Ridiculous Six on Netflix, when they’ve so carefully organized their brand around edginess, now-ness, and youth appeal. But hey, if this somehow makes Netflix as much money as Two And A Half Men made CBS, we can’t possibly blame them.