“Outer Range” is Amazon’s more sinister response to “Yellowstone” with a gaping hole of a mystery

Royal Abbott is charged.

The patriarch of a farm family in rural Wyoming, Royal (Josh Brolin) in the new Amazon Prime show “Outer Range” is to manage the land his wife’s family has owned for generations; stop the wealthy neighbors who say they actually own some of it; comforting his son and grandson after Royal’s daughter-in-law, Rebecca, disappears; and dealing with his wife Cecilias (Lili Taylor) increasingly believing Christian faith, which he does not exactly share. His second adult son, a future rodeo star, gets into a fight again – maybe he’s gone too far this time.

And then there’s the giant, gaping hole that has opened in Royal’s pasture.

Royal is also full of secrets. For a long time in the show, he tells no one, not even his family, about the hole, which he calls the “void,” and which he discovers after discovering that a few cows have disappeared.

You can guess where the cows probably ended up. And maybe even Rebecca. One of the mysteries of the “Outer Range” is that sometimes things get back in the hole.

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Like “Yellowstone,” the popular Paramount drama set in Montana starring Kevin Costner, “Outer Range,” created by Brian Watkins, centers on a stressed farm grandfather and dramatizes the great and contemporary American West. “Outer Range” differs from “Yellowstone” in its supernatural premise. The void is only the beginning of the mythical alienation.

Or the reason for it.

Royal himself has a dark beginning, a story of origin he does not even really know. He “grew up hard” according to his wife, left his family as a child because “something happened that made him run away” (again he does not remember what and he does not remember his parents) and showed up at her family ranch.

There is some the reason he wants the abbot’s western pasture for himself, where the void has opened up like a sarlacc.

Early in the first episode, another appears, Autumn (Imogen Poots), a young woman with money from Boulder, Colorado, who describes herself as a poet. She is a returnee, a serious environmentalist who is interested in camping on Royal land because he manages it with care for the land.

Not so the neighbors, engaged in a land conflict with the abbots. In a wonderful scene, Royal and his two sons ride out on horseback to inspect some fences while watching the trio of adult neighbor boys zoom across the pastures on ATVs. Royal and his sons wear cowboy hats and chaps. Neighbors: expensive sunglasses and designer sports equipment. It’s old ranchers and new money ranchers, the old country lifestyle vs the new one.

“Outer Range” does a good job with the countryside, from church basements to a landline phone with a long chord in the kitchen. I’ve lived less than two years in the American West, but I grew up in a peasant family from the Midwest, and Brolin’s clipped speech, harsh but not unfriendly (“We are not in the market for poems,” he tells Autumn) basically. My grandfather.

The landscape is a different character, with blue and white mountain ranges and large fields. Blue sky with endless clouds and bright green pastures reminiscent of René Magritte’s paintings. There are moving, sharp images here, such as when a buffalo shows up next to the Royal, arrows in the side that might indicate indigenous peoples (and perhaps tell of the animal’s origins).

The neighboring patriarch, Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton, always amazing and like this character, loves Clamato – me too, buddy), could have something to do with the buffalo. After all, he has a hunting trophy on his head along with many other animals. Drunk or dying or both, Wayne Abbotts calls out and squirts out wisdom that might be thrilling.

At times, the “Outer Range” feels stuck in its own sense of gravitas.

Maybe he knows what’s coming, or is responsible for it. There is some the reason he wants the abbot’s western pasture for himself, where the void has opened up like a sarlacc.

“Outer Range” carries his artistry on his sleeve. It’s the latest in a series of visually dark shows. Car headlights illuminate a meadow. Royal continues to scan pastures as we see through the black vignette in his binoculars. The music adds to the subdued mood with sonorous foghorn sounds.

Royal handles lost time almost immediately, but it takes a while before the central story gets hot. Meanwhile, the “Outer Range” abounds with low-pressure subplots – the rodeo career, an ex who went to college. Some are more compelling than others. The best may be “Schitt’s Creek” actor Noah Reid as Tillerson’s son, Billy, a strange and severely bleached-blonde boy who dreams of being a singer (and practices in front of the mirror in his underwear). His performance of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” is the best since “Somebody Somewhere” showed the song – and the most inappropriate funny thing that has happened at a funeral since Jean-Ralphio and Mona-Lisa tried to sneak past one in “Parks and Rec.”

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Glimpses of dark humor and simple surreality prevent the show from stalling, but it’s a slow burn with many burning questions. It’s hard not to think: Can we just get back to the giant hole in the ground, please?

Many speculative stories of this kind have a sense of inevitability around them (Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” comes to mind), and at times “Outer Range” feels stuck in its own sense of gravitas. “I’m glad to finally meet you,” Autumn says when he is first introduced to Royal, and Cecilia’s loaded description of him: “I feel like I’ve been waiting for him my whole life,” giving the rancher a mythical presence.

Does that significance deserve it? “Something’s coming. Something’s happening,” Wayne says. We’m not sure what it is yet, but I’m willing to wait.

“Outer Range” premiered in two episodes on Friday, April 15, with two new episodes airing weekly on Prime Video. Watch a trailer for it below, via Youtube.

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