Outlander is not a lighthearted costume romp, a bodice-ripper, or that dreaded term, “a chick-flick.” Instead, it’s a solid TV drama for men and women.
Outlander is the show that purports to be undefinable, but is it really? It’s a historical drama that confronts viewers with the wondrous intrigue of time travel. The premise is simple: What if time travel were possible, and what would you do to survive in a time that is 200 years prior to your own? Do you attempt to blend in? Do you attempt to go back? Do you attempt to right the perceived wrongs of history? No matter what you decide, what are the ramifications of your action or inaction?
Outlander is an intelligent drama that credits its audience, not just women but also men, with the ability to imagine. It trusts that viewers want compelling drama without regard to the sex, age, or married status of the protagonists. Outlander dares to take the risks other TV dramas should take and don’t.
You can binge watch all of season 1 for free now. Need convincing? Here are six reasons why you should be watching now.
Equal flawed partners
Jamie and Claire are far from perfect human beings. Each of them reacts to their current situation based upon the prejudices and social norms of their own time. Claire can be headstrong, and blunder into trouble because she hasn’t learned to navigate the social system of the time with finesse. Twentieth century knowledge can be a blessing and a curse — sometimes there’s more to be learned by the “old-fashioned” ways of doing things.
Jamie struggles with what he thinks a woman’s role should be, and at the same time he is willing to hear Claire’s different views. Sometimes he has an open mind, and at others he needs prodding.
Regardless of Jamie and Claire’s differences, there is always one thing that is clear: they respect each other, and are willing to learn from each other even though their perspectives are quite literally hundreds of years apart at times.
It can be easy in a historical drama to go down the simplistic road of us vs. them, or good vs. evil. History tends to color events in favor of the teller of the tale. For Americans, the Revolutionary War is the celebratory founding of our nation, but for the British it’s a footnote in a thousand years of history.
Outlander manages to make its villains real. They aren’t just mindless sycophants marching to a cause. Their motives are complex. Alliances change. In particular, in season 2, Jamie and Claire will learn first-hand how politics makes for strange bedfellows when navigating the French Court while the Scottish and English are jockeying for advantageous positions within it.
Realism of the era
Since much of Outlander happens through Claire’s perspective, the audience ends up feeling like a fish out of water right along with her. How do you reason with zealots with little education who think that witchcraft is real?
Travelling through 18th century Paris in a grand coach isn’t that picturesque. Sure, there’s grand architecture, but the ride is bumpy as hell, there’s open sewage running in the streets, and a phenomenal number of beggars, pickpockets, and cutthroats are waiting to menace you. Of course, there are glamorous dresses, flamboyant wigs, cosmetics, and perfumes. On the other hand, you have to juxtapose all that that against a population that didn’t like to bathe, and whose oral hygiene was non-existent. More than just a little bit of the luster comes off, and Outlander isn’t afraid to show it.
Breathtaking production values
— Outlander (@Outlander_STARZ) March 21, 2016
Executive producers Ron Moore and Marril Davis have assembled a team based in Scotland that is invested in getting it right. Outlander is predominantly shot in Scotland, both on location and on a sound-stage, though this season some exteriors were shot in Prague. The attention to detail, no matter the location, is amazing. In season 1, great pains went into a Castle Leoch set that in all likelihood will never be used again. Viewers would never have guessed it was a soundstage. It was as real of a castle hall as is seen on any U.K. tour. On top of the locations, the costumes are on a whole other plain. Currently, several are on display in Saks Fifth Avenue. The new French wardrobe is nothing short of jaw dropping, and, like the Leoch set, it won’t be used beyond one season.
There are certain topics that series avoid like the plague. Outlander tackles them head on, and makes no apologies for the views presented by the characters. After seeing the actions of the protagonists, we may actually dislike them, but that’s okay. It mirrors real life, where you’re not always happy with the actions of your spouse or relatives and they may never fully see your point of view, but you get through it. In the first season alone, Outlander explored nursing mothers, male rape, and wife beating. Outlander does not give the audience easy answers to go along with those issues, but what Outlander does provide is the opportunity for viewers to think.
Adapting a living author’s work for the big or small screen can be a tricky business. It’s like a marriage, and not every marriage works out. Sometimes collaboration goes well. George R.R. Martin’s involvement in Game of Thrones and Suzanne Collins’ involvement in The Hunger Games are textbook examples of how this can work well. On the other hand, E.L. James, Rick Riordan, and Anne Rice are textbook examples of where things went off the rails from either next to no input from the author, or the author openly feuding with the production team.
Luckily for Outlander, author Diana Gabaldon is involved, and she and the producers seem to have fallen into a comfortable working relationship based upon trust and respect of each other’s talents. Gabaldon acknowledges that the series is an adaptation, and enjoys it as such. It’s a different medium with different needs. Multiple others before Ron Moore had pitched adaptations, but those all, according to Gabaldon, “Made me want to explode or have my hair turn white.”
Great news for fans, this season Gabaldon doesn’t just have a cameo, she has penned an episode.
Binge watch all of Outlander season 1 now. Outlander season 2 airs on Starz April 9.
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