Outer Banks: A TV After School Special Riddled with “Holy Shits”

Verisimilitude isn’t the Netflix series Outer Banks’ strong suit.  For one thing, it doesn’t take place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that chain of barrier islands and peninsulas jutting way out into the Atlantic, the most hurricane prone spot on the east coast behind Florida.

Much of that area is windswept, rather barren, the main vegetation beach grasses.  In fact, Hatteras reminds me of the North Sea Scottish coast. However, the series is shot on and around the verdant barrier islands of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and in the city of Charleston. 

Nag’s Head, Outer Banks, from Our State magazine, photo credit, Ray Matthews

This discrepancy doesn’t bother me. I grew up watching The Lone Ranger where many outdoor scenes were produced in a sound studio with papier-mâché boulders and painted backdrops. If I had been born and raised in Peoria, I wouldn’t know the difference. After all, the show is fictional, a YA fantasy in which adolescents frolic and fight as they seek lost ante-bellum treasure. Still, it’s never a good thing when your suspension-of-disbelief Hindenburgs (yes, that’s a verb). 

In Outer Banks, implausibility intrudes rather too often for my censorious tastes; then again, its target audience is juveniles, so what should I expect? 

The series, a patchwork quilt of television and movie genres, features gang violence pitting the working class Pogues against the upper crust Kooks. Oddly enough, in Episode One, the slightly built, coke-snorting, Nordic-looking Kook Topper beats the shit out of John B, the Pogue protagonist, a waterman who is much more muscular and physically active than Topper. Picture David Bowie kicking Bono’s ass. 

Um, I don’t think so.

The show also has a Dirty Dozen thing going, you know, a group of character types forming a team to accomplish a mission, in this case locating a shipwreck that supposedly held 400 million in gold that once belonged to an ante-bellum freedman named Denmark Tanny (based very loosely on Denmark Vesey, the historical alleged architect of a foiled slave insurrection). 

Anyway, the Pogue team consists of John B, whose father has been lost at sea and whose mother is dead; JJ, the rebellious son of an abusive alcoholic; Kiara, an outlier, female and middle-class but nevertheless a Pogue; and Pope, a Black academic whiz kid who reminds me of the Greg Morris character from the TV show Mission Impossible. Despite being analytical, Pope can be talked into some pretty stupid shit, though, like scuttling Topper’s folks’ expensive power boat in broad daylight. The Pogues argue and scream at each other but eventually end up agreeing on a plan, which often means breaking a law or two.

Of course, you also have romance, quadrilateral entanglements in the case of John B and Kiara, John B and the Queen of the Kooks Sarah, and Sarah and Topper, who are going steady at the beginning of the series. Even though these teens party hearty, they are remarkably chaste, at least in the first season. Despite downing bucketsful of draft beer at wild ass keggers on the beach, throwing down liquor at soirees, ain’t much making out going on, much less intercourse. So far, I’d guess all the teenagers are virgins. They do employ vulgar language, however, “holy shit” being a favorite.

Adventure, i.e., suspense, is the show’s lifeblood, and although the setting is contemporary, the characters aren’t tethered to their cell phones, nor do the authorities make much use of surveillance cameras. Whenever the Pogues trespass, usually in broad daylight, they encounter antagonists who unsuccessfully chase them, given that the Pogues possess the stamina and speed of Olympian sprinters. For me, it gets rather tedious seeing the same scenarios playing out over and over in episode after episode. Violence is graphic and constant.

Also, the soundtrack is lame. Some Jimmy Cliff or Desmond Dekker would be nice. 

That said, I guess I’m enjoying watching. Unlike some shows, it’s not so wretched you pull for the bad guys. My wife Caroline (who coined the title of this piece) and I Mystery-Science-Theater (yes, that’s a verb) our way through it, making wisecracks at some of the inept acting and unlikely events. I know that writing serials is difficult (cf. the spectacular beginning of Twin Peaks versus its ignominious ending) so I shouldn’t be too harsh. And anyway, it’s fun encountering places you know, like the Charleston clothing shop Ben Silver and the Morris Island Lighthouse, which we can see from our living room window.  

photo credit, yours truly