Netflix's Teen Treasure-Hunt Drama 'Outer Banks' Is a Breezy Binge
There's gold in them thar dunes.
Centuries of colonization, wars, and storms means there are tons of shipwrecks in the waters off the East Coast just waiting for enterprising SCUBA divers to stumble across them. It's one of these ships, laden with gold, that's at the center of Netflix's newest teen drama series, Outer Banks, which follows a group of high-school kids hunting for sunken treasure, while also trying to solve a mystery about one of the friends' missing father.
John B. Routledge (Chase Stokes), known to his friends and enemies as John B, lives parentless in the less fashionable backalleys of the Outer Banks, the North Carolina island chain that's become a popular tourist destination in the summers, hanging with his pals and working his job at a boat repair company. He and his friends Pope, J.J., and Kiara call themselves the Pogues -- not after the band, but after the pogie, slang for Menhaden, a popular small bait fish used for catching other, more desirable fish. The Pogues spend their downtime antagonizing the Kooks (also not named for the band), the Vineyard Vines-clad children from the rich households with McMansions squatting on whatever land isn't already sinking into the sea.
John B is also searching desperately for any clues about his missing father, who disappeared mysteriously after telling his son about gold potentially onboard a ship called the Royal Merchant. When John B finds his missing dad's compass, with a word scratched into the lid, he's sure the treasure is real, and he enlists his misfit friends to try to find it. The problem is, a lot of other people on the island are searching for the gold too, and they're a lot more dangerous than the Pogues are prepared for.
The thing about Outer Banks is that, like many of Netflix's shows, it would have benefited more from being a movie, or even a short miniseries. Despite the intriguing story, the characters are just not interesting enough for a standard-length Netflix season, let alone a multi-season show. The ten episodes start to drag around the midpoint, when it seems that all the show is focused on is fights between the Pogues and the Kooks, a drug-dealing plot, and a character that keeps pulling a gun out whenever stuff starts to get hairy. Any character who has a father figure present will get into a yelling fistfight with them, and it happens over and over and over.
If everything about this show was just a little bit more engaging, or funnier, or more absurd, it would be actually fun to watch, but most of it is just so dreary. We're in an era of teen shows like Riverdale, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars that are by their very nature heightened, self-referential, and ridiculous -- and much more fun because of that.
That said, Outer Banks is actually very binge-able, mostly due to the constantly evolving plot, which, despite the dullness of its main characters, keeps moving at a rapid clip until the final act, which is kind of exciting. There is a very fun fight onboard a fishing boat in a later episode where people are shooting harpoons and flailing at each other with enormous hooks. The subtext of it all -- in finding the treasure and making themselves rich, aren't the Pogues becoming the thing they disdain the most? -- would be a worthwhile pursuit if the show thought it was worth examining, but, for now, it's more focused on turning a summery archipelago into a den of thieves, populated by one-dimensional teens too obsessed with taking vengeance on each other to worry about anything else.
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