Ah yes, life in the OBX—that being the Outer Banks of coastal North Carolina—where teens have no parents, swimsuits are acceptable casual wear, school is optional, and you and your friends are international fugitives wanted for murdering a cop while in pursuit of half a billion in gold bars. And, oh yeah, also the Shroud of Turin?
When Netflix’s Outer Banks closed its sudsy first season, I wrote about how the show took a hard turn in the wrong direction from an O.C. or even Friday Nights Lights-ish teen drama aesthetic to something much more violent and complicated that would be hard to extract itself from. At that point, our Romeo and Juliet couple, poor Pogue boy John B (Chase Stokes) and rich Kook girl Sarah (Madelyn Cline), were escaping off into a hurricane together and were later presumed dead. Season 2 picks up about a week later, when they find themselves heading to Nassau as their friends and families briefly mourn them before they make contact.
In the early days of Outer Banks, the group of “wrong side of the tracks” (and impossibly good-looking) Pogues—including Pope (Jonathan Daviss), Kie (Madison Bailey), and JJ (Rudy Pankow)—battled class issues and sometimes difficult home lives on the sun-soaked marshland. There was also the hint of buried treasure, which propelled much of that season. But after a certain point, Outer Banks gave up on any semblance of character development to rush whole-hog into being some kind of teen-led action franchise focused on tracking down a billion dollars worth of gold. To escalate from kids turf-warring around a bonfire to having everyone trying to kill everyone else all of the time to bringing a holy Christian artifact into the equation just takes everything to to the limit—and that is not for the best. No one was expecting Outer Banks to be high art, but it’s not even good background television at this point, thanks to all of the constant screaming, shooting, and near-death experiences.
Outer Banks has always operated as a kind of “what parents?” fantasy, where for the most part things like school, jobs, and family aren’t really on the front of one’s mind. Instead the group gets involved in absolutely insane adventures that go beyond the realm of reason so fast you’ll get the bends. Initially there was some occasional weight to the drama, especially regarding John B losing his father and being on his own, JJ’s abusive home life, and even something to the romance of a rich girl who gives it all up because her family is legitimately horrifying. But in Season 2, for the most part, none of that matters. It’s all about ratcheting up the action to the highest, most improbable degree. Instead of endless horizons and an escapist teen dream, the show becomes a kind of high school Bourne Identity, except full of incredibly dumb decisions and plot repetition. If you only have 10 episodes with which to tell your season arc and you have each of your characters almost killed in the same three ways, over and over again, you’re really not trying.
It’s a shame, too, because Outer Banks is well-shot, has a gorgeous setting, and its actors are fun to watch—it could be at least somewhat compelling teen television. Instead it’s a nonsensical farce. There are still moments when things quiet down, the kids look like kids again, and they talk over each other and rib one another and have crushes. But the show is ultimately only interested in violence; even characters who are in love don’t share more than one chaste kiss throughout the entire season, but they are beaten to hell multiple times. And what should have been a major moment of intimacy between two characters is not even hinted at happening until much later, when one casually brings it up, before it’s dismissed as unimportant (because of guns, yelling, gold, etc).
There is also the very troublesome subplot, or multiple subplots, regarding treasure stolen from a freed slave long ago, which is currently being fought over by two white families whose ancestors destroyed his life and everything he built and then took it all for themselves. This, coupled with the show’s bizarre tangent to Nassau where white teens John B and Sarah end up running the show when it comes to a criminal gang of adult Black characters, continues to give white characters positions of power in stories that are specifically about Black people (and often, the wrongs perpetrated against them). It’s particularly stark in the case of Pope (whose entire Season 1 scholarship arc is all but forgotten); when it’s discovered that he has a personal connection to the treasure, race doesn’t play a part in the story. In any kind of reasonable sense, it is the entire story. If you don’t want to broach the issue of race here, then don’t tie the treasure to slavery. But if you’re going to make that link, you have a responsibility to actually talk about it and the implications.
“Messy” doesn’t even begin to describe Outer Banks Season 2, which forfeits any of the good will established in its early Season 1 episodes by tripling-down on its nonsense heist plots. If you are looking for a breezy teen-focused series that brings good drama, the compass does not point this way. If you want guns, FBI raids, endless screaming, kidnapping, psychopathic family members, and murderous intentions at every turn… well, you’re getting closer. One hopes another, more relaxed teen drama may appear and tell a better, character-driven story about class and coastal living eventually. Because at this point, Outer Banks has gone too far off course.
Outer Banks Season 2 premieres Friday, July 30th 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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