TV Recap: Outlander, Series Premiere

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Plot: Based on the popular series by Diana Gabaldon. World War II has ended and British nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) has reunited with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) after being separated for five years. While on their “second honeymoon” in the Scottish highlands during “Samhain” (AKA Halloween) they are warned the spirit world is extremely active. The couple heeds no warning and Claire ends up at a Druid ritual ground and then transported back to 1743.

A premiere episode is a peculiar animal. It is, whether fair or not, a make-or-break episode. If you read my review of Cinemax’s The Knick, which premiered last week, the pilot episode was a rather uneven affair, but the show dramatically evolved over the subsequent episodes of the season into an extremely amazing drama. That pilot, despite its faults and weaknesses, showed enough potential that it drew me back for a second episode.

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Then then are premieres like the Starz’s new historical romantic fantasy drama, Outlander. The series, based on the massively popular series by Diana Gabaldon, had really nice “on paper” potential — a historical romantic drama filled with action, adventure and time travel? This sounds like a recipe for awesome.

Sadly, not this was not the case as the premiere for the new Starz series was definitely “a break” episode.

One of the biggest issues with Outlander’s premiere is that it suffers from poor time management. An odd criticism for a television show, right? However, Outlander spends the majority of the premiere episode meandering in the gauzily shot sexcapades (including a weird oral sex scene in an abandoned castle) and then crams the whole historical romance/time travel/action narrative into an oddly paced final 15 minutes. It gives the episode a very rushed and forced feeling as if the episode racing to catch up with the actual plot after realizing it spent way too much time watching the lead actors have sex.

The episode also makes the cardinal mistake of giving the entire plot away in a blatantly obvious manner. The scene involves Claire getting her palm read and the palm reader tells her she’ll be married twice, but “the timelines are the same time.” Yes, thank you, we get it, she’s going back in time and she’ll fall in love with another man and marry him. This point is hammered home with a jackhammer later when her husband tells her it’s okay if she was with another man during the war because they were separated for so long. Yes, the husband has now justified her being able to sleep with and marry the man she meets in her time travels.

…And of course this man happens to be a dashingly handsome (and as the series trailers show us) often shirtless, complete with a 94 pack Scottish rogue. Talk about cliche. Also, it’s very weird that in the time travel narrative, the same actor who plays the husband, plays the “big bad.” Is this supposed to be some of commentary that Claire’s present day husband is a bad guy, thus justifying her infidelity in the future/past? My head hurts.

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Outside of these shenanigans, the premiere episode of Outlander also doesn’t do enough to make you care about the main character. We’re supposed to believe she’s this tough, modern, independent woman, but outside of cursing at the men she meets in the past and the opening credits where she’s sewing up a wounded soldier, all the premiere tell us is that she likes sex…a lot of sex and a lot of sex in random places.

Who knows, maybe future episodes of Outlander could improve. However, the premiere episode gave me no glimmer of hope of this. There’s no character or actor that I’m investing in, the tone and pacing of the show is confused and to top things off, trailers for the rest of the season has given away all the twists, turns and plot points for the rest of the series. Basically, this show gives you no reason to tune in every week. Fans of the book may find my criticisms to be unwarranted as maybe it does capture the spirit of the books perfectly, but for those of us who are unfamiliar with the source material, Outlander should come nowhere near your TV viewing schedule.

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Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites