Roush Review: Ashton Kutcher Back on a Sitcom ‘Ranch’

The Ranch - Danny Masterson, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Winger, Sam Elliott
Danny Masterson, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Winger, Sam Elliott

If you stumbled across The Ranch by accident—because honestly, it’s hard to imagine putting this at the top of anyone’s playlist—you might think: Pretty solid traditional sitcom with some actual substance amid the wisecracks, and my, don’t Sam Elliott and Debra Winger play well together as estranged, yet still lusty, spouses.

But beyond the star casting of Ashton Kutcher as Colt, a faded football semi-pro who returns to the family fold to help save their failing Colorado ranch, this doesn’t exactly scream “Netflix Original.” Originality really isn’t the point here, including casting Kutcher’s That ’70s Show co-star Danny Masterson as Rooster, the prodigal’s sarcastic and underappreciated brother.

Less an occasion to binge (10 episodes now, 10 more to follow) than to casually snack in the comfort-food aisle, The Ranch feels more like the sort of middling TV comedy that gets hammocked between bigger hits on a network like ABC or CBS. On Netflix’s own eclectic comedy spectrum, it falls midway between the inane (Fuller House) and the inspired (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which returns for a new season in two weeks).

Unexceptional, maybe, but also unobjectionable, and being on a streaming service, this multi-camera comedy allows its salt-of-the-earth characters to speak with salty expletives (an occasional un-bleeped “f”-bomb), adding credibility to its relatable premise of working-class folks struggling in an unforgiving Farm Belt economy, their situation worsened by a long drought. Though mention global warming to curmudgeonly patriarch Beau Bennett (Elliott), and he’ll go on a predictable Al Gore rant. (It’s funnier when he’s confronted with new TV technology and barks, “What the f— is Netflix?”)

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Though there are too-easy jokes about the Uggs (“lady boots”) that Colt sports upon his uneasy homecoming, there’s nothing easy about the predicament the family faces in keeping the lights on, and the generational tension feels real as Colt puts aside his dashed dreams of gridiron glory—he knows he peaked in high school—and tries to grow up, to prove his worth to a stubborn and unyielding father. Not that The Ranch requires that much dramatic heavy lifting. You could start a drinking game waiting for someone to crack the next joke with a variation on “balls.”

Still, Kutcher is never less than appealing, especially when he’s flirting with an ex (Happy Endings‘ Elisha Cuthbert) who’s engaged to another, and Elliott is commandingly gruff. And I give The Ranch credit for coming up with one of the few moderately funny “vagina” jokes I’ve heard on any sitcom (perhaps because it follows the unusual spectacle of Colt thrusting his arm inside the backside of a birthing cow). Which may not be reason enough to drop everything and go home on the range, though watching an episode or two at one’s leisure could make you nostalgic for a time when unassuming shows like this were more commonplace. But what’s this doing on Netflix instead of TV Land? Got me.

The Ranch premieres Friday, April 1, on Netflix