Written by Ben Murchison
Executive Producer and star of the Netflix original The Ranch, Ashton Kutcher had a difficult task facing him as the successful series moved into the second half of Season 3. Following the firing of longtime friend and co-star Danny Masterson, the writers had to not only determine an appropriate way to explain his character’s disappearance, but also keep the tone of the show together which largely depended on Kutcher and Masterson’s long developed comedic timing. It was a tall ask, and if Part 6 is any indication, one that proved to be too much.
Up until this most recent episode installment, The Ranch has blended some dramatic elements nicely into episodes filled with witty banter, sarcasm and quotable one-liners. When the show has been at its best, it has featured the Bennett brothers Colt and Rooster (Kutcher and Masterson) interacting with each other or with their no-nonsense father Beau (Sam Elliott), who is the king of dry humor. Removing Masterson may have been a necessary move following the allegations against him, but there is no denying that his absence is very recognizable and leaves a void.
An attempt to fill that void was made by introducing a surprise cousin to the family who is played by Dax Shepard. Kutcher and Shepard have a long history together dating back to the celebrity prank show Punk’d, and so it made sense to try and utilize their chemistry again, but the tone of the show was geared far more dramatically. When given the chance to use Shepard as much needed comic relief, they still chose to go the dramatic route at times by giving his character PTSD from his time at war. Even the laugh track seems confused on what to do at times.
Part 6 spent the first half of its allotment of episodes dealing with the loss of Rooster who left town at the end of Part 5 after being threatened by his on again-off again girlfriend’s ex, Nick (Josh Burrow). Colt, who has just taken on the responsibility of running his own ranch, becomes cautiously concerned when Rooster doesn’t show up for his first day of work, but everyone else thinks nothing of it. Gradually his suspicious absence can no longer be ignored and after several episodes a conclusion is reached.
Although they did not entirely shut the door on the potential for a return, however unlikely that may be. The second half attempts to move on by introducing Shepard coupled with a strange storyline for Mary, and then Colt and Abby (Elisha Cuthbert) dealing with the stress of starting their new family and ranch. The least stressed individual is surprisingly Beau who seems content to take a step back and relish his relationship with Joanne (Kathy Baker).
The Ranch is a show that is full of very capable actors, so dealing with heavier material isn’t something that is beyond their reach by any means, but when a show has built its viewership on being a comedy first, it is asking a lot of the audience to go along for the ride. The hardships, and heartbreaking moments are fitting based on the difficulties of ranching and family drama being told, and for the most part Kutcher and Elliott are asked to carry the load of conveying it.
While Elliot can seemingly do no wrong, Kutcher comes across as hit or miss and partially that serves the larger narrative that for this show, you expect to have him cracking jokes and making you laugh, so when he spends a larger portion of the season splitting time between emotionally breaking down and playing a tough guy, it feels awkward and forced. It’s not surprising that the best part of this portion of the show is Colt reading and reacting to a letter sent to him by Rooster. Kutcher was terrific in that sequence.
With news that The Ranch has been renewed for another year, the hope is that the show can move back towards a comedy first focus, let Yellowstone serve as the dramatic ranching program on television, and instead offer a more satisfying final season. Based on the ratings departure for Part 6, that is the only logical move to make for the Bennetts.
Overall Rating: 5.0