No one actually says “Welcome to the OBX, bitch!” but the sentiment is definitely there in Netflix’s new teen dream of a TV series. Created by Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, and Shannon Burke, Outer Banks explores the lives of the rich kids (called Kooks) and poor kids (Pogues) along North Carolina’s marshy coastal islands. Adults are scarce, school is out, shirts are practically sacrilege; it’s a high schooler’s fantasy.
Outer Banks is reminiscent of Friday Night Lights at times, if the show was focused just on the Riggins brothers, or The O.C. if we spent more time with Ryan in Riverside. The first of the series’ 10 episodes spends the opening five minutes naming and explaining every character and where they belong in the social pecking order, establishing what seems like a very paint-by-numbers teen drama whose players are almost indistinguishably attractive.
And yet, it didn’t take long before I was absolutely invested in the dramas befalling our Pogue heroes, led by sensitive lover-boy John B (Chase Stokes). He and his best friends—the damaged jerk with a heart of gold, JJ (Rudy Pankow), the anxious nerd hoping a scholarship buys his ticket out of OBX, Pope (Jonathan Daviss), and the level-headed hippie Kook slumming with them, Kiara (Madison Bailey)—are on the hunt for gold. As others have said, it’s pretty much Hot Goonies on the beach.
Instead of rote, though, Outer Banks’ setup mostly feels classic (helped in no small part by the fact that a storm knocks out all cell phone service). It’s a throwback, in some ways; the kids drink and hookup a little, but mostly the story revolves around the search for gold lost in an ancient shipwreck. That mystery is also tied to the recent disappearance of John B’s father, which puts DCS on his trail as a minor living alone. Meanwhile there is, of course, a girl he’s crushing hard for—Sarah (Madelyn Cline), the daughter of his supposedly benevolent employer, who also gets mixed up in the search for treasure. Sarah has a waste of an older brother who’s also best friends with her snob boyfriend Topper (Austin North), absolutely the most ridiculous name in a series whose lead is literally called John B (B is not the start of his last name, either).
But for most of its run, Outer Banks is genuine escapist fun. It doesn’t require a lot of your brainpower, but it delivers compelling cliffhangers and enough of a summer fantasy set against the gorgeous marshy backdrop of the coastal Carolinas to have you planning a post-quarantine getaway—at least in your dreams. (Despite the setting, there are only occasionally hints of accents, and thankfully it doesn’t lean into that). The series also makes some smart plays early on, like quashing a will-they-won’t-they and allowing friends to just be friends, as well as making sure no characters—even the Kooks—feel one-dimensional (even though performance-wise most of the young actors are still getting their sea legs). There’s a lot of shaky-cam work and use of the word “bro,” but what did you think you were watching? The hunt for treasure takes the Pogues and viewers on an Odyssey worth investing in—one that includes murder, bad guys with guns, breaking into a crypt, falling down a well, being abandoned on a boat, and a lot of running from the cops. It does eventually go off the rails, and doesn’t end with much resolution, but for awhile there it feels like pure summertime.
Outer Banks isn’t exactly wholesome, but there is something about its sun-soaked adventure that feels emotionally authentic to the teen experience. For a show whose first episode starts off with the Pogues all crashing at John B’s parentless pad and nothing less dramatic than a hurricane, it’s surprisingly grounded—so much so that some may find it a little bland. But as it threads together the island’s various social orders in ways that continues to amp up the drama, the twists (emotional and plot-driven) manage to be both familiar and surprising—despite an overwrought denouement that threatens to overshadow its better parts. Outer Banks isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is, and that’s a respectable position to take. Welcome to the OBX, viewer.
Outer Banks premieres Wednesday, April 15th on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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