A decade after That ‘70s Show ended its successful run, fan favorites Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson reunite in Netflix’s new original comedy series, The Ranch. Executive produced by Two and a Half Men’s Don Reo and Jim Patterson, the multi-camera comedy follows Colt (Kutcher), a failed NFL quarterback who returns home to help run his family’s Colorado ranch.
Joining the sitcom vets are acclaimed actors Sam Elliott and Debra Winger as the parents of brothers Colt and Jameson “Rooster” Bennett (Masterson). The Ranch marks the first time Elliott and Winger have appeared in a multi-camera comedy.
Ten half-hour episodes of The Ranch will become available to all Netflix members Friday, April 1, at 12:01 a.m. PT.
“Basically, the idea was to do a show that was about the people between California and New York, who we felt were an audience that really wasn’t represented the way they really are,” says Reo, the creator of several TV comedies including My Wife and Kids, Blossom and The John Larroquette Show.
He adds, “It stemmed from a love of country music that (Jim and I) share and things like NASCAR and rodeos – all the things that are inherent in, if you will, Western America. As it turned out, Ashton Kutcher was also interested in that world, and when we started talking about it together, the show slowly evolved.”
While The Ranch is a traditional family comedy in many ways, the creative team was eager to bend some of the rules of broadcast television.
“One of our intentions with this show is to break a lot of conventions of traditional sitcoms,” says Kutcher, who also serves as an executive producer. “We don’t have commercial breaks, so we don’t have to treat the material the same way and have a comedic joke at the end of every scene. We don’t really have a time limit on the show, which allows us to tell a lot more stories and do a little bit more drama.”
Much of the show’s drama comes from the unsteady relationship between patriarch Beau (Elliott) and his two sons. While Rooster remained in his hometown and never stopped working for his father, Colt has spent the last 15 years away from his family.
“I think (Colt) is the realization of a lot of people’s fears, where you set out and try to forge your way with a career, maybe things don’t go the way that you planned, and you find yourself sort of starting over at 30,” Kutcher says. “Now he’s trying to find his place in his family and his town and himself. (That’s) really kind of the personal battle, to figure out, ‘Who am I, and what am I good at?’”
Kutcher adds, “It’s almost a dramedy with an audience as opposed to a traditional sitcom, which I think is really interesting. It brings a lot of heart.”
That said, The Ranch does find funny in nearly every scenario, whether it’s thanks to Colt’s impractical fashion choices, Rooster’s off-kilter wisecracks or Beau’s penchant for R-rated language.
“As a performer, to make people laugh is an astounding gift, and I really relish that opportunity,” Elliott says. “The first couple of nights that we filmed in front of a live audience and listened to audience laughter … it was pretty incredible.”
Along with Reo, Patterson and Kutcher, Masterson also serves as an executive producer. Netflix has made a 20-episode commitment to The Ranch, with 10 additional episodes set to premiere in the fall of 2016. Elisha Cuthbert (24, Happy Endings) has a supporting role on the series.
“Our goal is to present something that’s reflective of the people and the world that we know,” Reo says.
ABOUT THE CAST
As an actor and producer who has spent nearly two decades working nonstop, Ashton Kutcher has gained worldwide recognition for his roles on sitcoms Two and a Half Men and That ‘70s Show; in movies like Jobs, The Butterfly Effect, No Strings Attached and Just Married; and on MTV’s hit series Punk’d, which he created. Outside of the film and TV industries, he’s a successful businessman and venture capitalist.
On The Ranch, Kutcher plays Colt, a man whose failed semi-pro football career forces him to return home and reevaluate his life. He says it’s a character many may relate to, whether they live in middle America or elsewhere.
“He’s kind of a ladies’ man, and he’s a little bit of a rebel, and he’s the kind of guy that’ll kind of do anything on a dare,” Kutcher says. “He comes back home a little bit with his tail between his legs and kind of with that same crisis I think a lot of late-20- and early-30-year-olds are in, where they go off and get a degree, and then they try to enter a workforce where there really isn’t a job for them.”
Longtime fans of Kutcher will be thrilled to see him share scenes with Danny Masterson, his former That ‘70s Show co-star and fellow executive producer.
“It’s funny, because we really have almost nothing in common besides enjoying each other’s company,” Masterson says. “But for some reason, our comic timing works really well (together). We can do scenes together effortlessly, and they make people laugh because they’re all a little strange, I think.”
Masterson’s resume also includes the TBS comedy Men at Work, dozens of TV and film appearances and a side career as an in-demand DJ. As Jameson “Rooster” Bennett on The Ranch, he portrays a character with many of the qualities Colt lacks.
“He’s the last one to go to bed, and the first one up,” Masterson says. “He’s loyal to his family, and he believes that he is the most badass rancher in the state of Colorado. He has basically says things that you shouldn’t say; he has no filter.”
“I’m astounded by Danny Masterson,” says Sam Elliott, who plays his father on the show. “And I know this one of many balls (Ashton) has in the air, but he’s a master at it. They’re good guys, and they’re fun to work with.”
Known for playing stoic cowboy types on film and television for more than 40 years, Elliott was the creators’ ideal choice to play Beau.
“We basically wrote the character for Sam Elliott, thinking we would find some version of him,” Masterson says. “And then Sam said he would do it, so we were shocked.”
“I’ve been a huge fan of Sam Elliott – one of my all-time favorite movies is Tombstone,” Kutcher says. “He’s basically been this kind of brilliant, gruff guy (onscreen). You watch him in a Western, and you totally believe he is that guy.”
Elliott, whose many memorable performances include roles in The Big Lebowski, Road House, Gettysburg, Mask and the TV series Justified and Parks and Recreation, says he took the role based on the material and the unfamiliar format.
“It’s new ground,” he says of working on a multi-cam series. “You know, I’ve been in this business for 47 years, and this was an opportunity to work in an area that I’ve never worked in. And I had a really long conversation with Don Reo. … Things that attract me to whatever project I get in are the people and the material.”
As Beau, Elliott plays a staunchly conservative, hard-working rancher with unflinching beliefs. A Vietnam veteran, Beau took on the ranch after his father’s death, bringing the show’s father-son dynamics full circle.
“I think on some level, Beau is old-school,” Elliott says. “He doesn’t particularly understand the direction (the world) is headed. I think he spends a lot of time being angry, whether it’s angry at himself, angry at the world or angry at the people that are the closest to him. He has a sense of humor, thank goodness … but he spends a lot of time groaning about life.”
“One of the big things that we wanted in this show is that Archie Bunker character who had these values that were maybe stuck a generation ago, but that could comedically say anything he wanted and get away with it,” Kutcher says. “I think Danny and I have taken a lot of cues from him just in how to play these characters and how these guys are. ‘Cause there’s not a whole lot of acting for him; he’s kind of that way.”
Three-time Academy Award nominee Debra Winger plays Maggie, the matriarch of the family who has her own complex relationship with Beau (they’re separated, sort of) and runs the local bar.
“Many mothers, especially in families of all males, are sort of the invisible glue,” Winger says. “I’m trying to figure out where I fit in, and I think a lot of women feel that way in male scenarios, whether it’s workplace or the family. … I, Debra – not just Maggie the character – we’re just trying to figure out how we can not sell ourselves out and still be useful.”
Audiences may know Winger from Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman, Shadowlands, Rachel Getting Married and other dramatic roles. In The Ranch, she maintains that toughness while also garnering laughs.
“With Debra, (we were) trying to find that mom who could have that tough, stern voice but also a really compassionate heart,” Kutcher says.
“She’s kind of this badass woman who’s got a little hardness to her, in a good way,” Masterson says of Winger. “As a person, she’s so sweet and loving, but we saw this kind of zaniness in her press (interviews) from the past, and we were like, ‘Yeah, she could be this Calamity Jane-style character.”
Like Elliott, Winger says she took on the role because it was an opportunity to do something new.
“It’s all really challenging insofar as there’s no well-worn path,” she says. “I’m still trying to infuse what I always think is the reason to work, which is to tell a story about humans, in (a multi-camera series). So the challenge is to bring what I know from film, my life and my work into this format.”
“These are fine, fine actors,” Reo says of Elliott and Winger. “They bring a weight and a substance to this that wasn’t there previously.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Ranch features a couple creative reunions for Kutcher: one with Masterson, and another with executive producers Don Reo and Jim Patterson, with whom he worked on Two and a Half Men. He says the idea for the show developed fairly organically.
“Kind of a simultaneous conversation was happening with Danny and I going, ‘Hey, let’s figure out something we can do together,’ and Don and Jim and I saying, ‘Man, this has been a great couple years on Two and a Half Men,” he says.
Kutcher says he and Masterson were interested in developing a different sort of TV project, or, as he puts it, “a show that could find funny in a world where it gets harder and harder to find funny with out wholly offending someone.”
Meanwhile, Patterson and Reo had a similar idea.
“It seemed to us that people in mid-America or anywhere between the coasts were sort of portrayed in more of a jokey fashion than real people,” Reo says.
True to their vision, characters on The Ranch maintain conservative beliefs and traditional family values. A few other elements boost the show’s authenticity, including the uncensored dialogue.
“In all the years that I’ve made half-hour shows, I’ve always heard another show in my head the way people really talk, and then I take that show and change it into a sitcom,” Reo said. “It’s a tremendously exciting thing to have people talk the way they really talk.”
Adds Masterson: “We’re definitely a little more on the PG-13 to R rating, but any profanities (are used) just basically for a joke. We’re not running around dropping F-bombs every other line.”
Another unique aspect to The Ranch is its soundtrack, which forgoes traditional scoring in favor of popular country music.
“Jim and I both decided from the beginning that we wanted to have wall-to-wall music,” Reo says. “I think it adds a kind of credibility or undercurrent that makes it feel richer.”
Also worth noting is The Ranch’s theme song, an updated version of Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, the classic popularized by country superstars Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. For The Ranch, the track is performed by the artists’ sons, Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson.
“That’s my favorite outlaw country song,” Masterson says. “And I thought we could just go buy (it), or what if we had two sons – the two most famous sons of Country Hall of Famers – recreate one of their fathers’ biggest hits in a new way so it’s true to them?”
He continues, “I couldn’t think of anything more insane and perfect than that.
And they came up with a brilliant, gorgeous, incredible version.”
The Ranch marks the first Netflix project for most of the cast and creative team.
“It’s literally like being let out of prison,” Reo says of working with the service. “There’s virtually total creative freedom, which is very exciting and very daunting at the same time.”
“I find the people at Netflix are a real interesting and creative bunch,” says Elliott, who has also appeared on the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie. “I think they leave the creativity to the producers and the writers.”
Adds Kutcher: “To be one of the first people doing a sitcom on this kind of format felt like a really interesting opportunity for us to break some rules and try some different things. It’s really liberating as a creator.”