Netflix’s show ‘The Ranch’ fades in later seasons

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After four years and 80 episodes, one of Netflix’s most popular series has hit its bitter and abrupt end: “The Ranch.”

After a controversial firing of a beloved character and low ratings, Netflix officially pulled the plug on the show after its sixth part and ordered the final 20 episodes to be produced. The series follows the alcohol-guzzling, Clinton-hating, Reagan-loving, unregistered gun-owning, Communist-despising redneck Bennett family on their family ranch, the Iron River Ranch, located in fictitious Garrison, Colorado.

Rather than a typical series, where the episodes are broken up into seasons, “The Ranch” is separated into eight “parts,” each containing 10 episodes. Each part premiered roughly six months from each other.

The show stars Ashton Kutcher as Colt Bennett, a former failed quarterback who won the Colorado state football championship, and then spent 15 years of his life attempting to continue his football career while failing miserably. Other stars include the iconic Sam Elliott as Beau Bennett, a third-generation rancher who has worked the land for 50 years and described to have more guns than Canada (all unregistered, of course); Elisha Cuthbert as Abby Phillips-Bennett, Colt’s former high school sweetheart and eventual wife; and Debra Winger as Maggie Bennett, owner of the town bar and the only Democrat allowed on Bennett soil.

Additional cast members include Danny Masterson as Rooster Bennett, Colt’s older brother; Dax Shepard as Luke Matthews, the son of Beau’s brother, who died in the Vietnam War; Kelli Goss as Heather Roth, Colt’s 22-year-old girlfriend in part one; Megyn Price as Mary Roth, Heather’s soon-to-be drug-addicted mother and Rooster’s girlfriend for half the show; Barry Corbin as Dale Rivers, local veterinarian; Grady Lee Richmond as Hank, the town drunk; and Kathy Baker as Joanne, Beau’s future wife.

The main focus of part one is Colt’s return to his hometown for the first time in years and continuous financial troubles with the ranch. With his high school sweetheart in another relationship, Colt begins dating the 22-year-old bombshell Heather. To complicate things further, Rooster begins going out with Heather’s mother, Mary, who is closer in age to Rooster than Colt is to Heather. Additionally, Beau and Maggie struggle over marriage troubles that have kept them living separately for years. The first part ends with the Bennett’s financial troubles (temporarily) ending, Maggie leaving town and Abby, recently engaged, telling Colt she’s having “Colt” feet about being with her fiance.

Although new, the dynamic between the lead cast clicked from the beginning of the show. It did take some time to get the plot rolling, but once it did, the show made a mark on Netflix bingers. My only complaint was the chance solution to the conflict: the only reason that the Bennetts’ got out of their financial hole was because of a chemical spill making their cows more marketable — seems too lucky for me.

Part two begins with an angry Beau wishing to divorce Maggie when she returns to town. Impatient with Abby, Colt hooks up with Heather following their break up, which further strains their relationship before Abby reconciles. Beau entrusts the boys with inseminating the herd, but takes the job away after they only inseminate one of 10 cattle. This creates a divide in the family, causing Beau and Maggie to divorce and Rooster to take a job running a ranch for Neumann’s Hill, a bigshot ranching corporation putting small family ranches out of business. Part two ends with Heather telling Colt she is pregnant before Colt can propose to Abby.

The romance (and lack thereof) in  Season 2 was a stark contrast to the constant sex at the beginning of the show. The addition of the Chevy-driving, John-Wayne-movie-hating Joanne, introduced by Mary to cheer Beau up, made Beau’s character that much more enjoyable to watch. The cliffhanger paved the way for part three to be, in my opinion, the best part of the series.

In part three, the tension and comedy are at their highest point of the show. Everyone hates Colt, including Abby, her parents and Mary — she shoots up his truck to prove it — and Beau and Rooster are not speaking to each other. Eventually, everyone calms down, and Colt is less despised (by everyone except Abby’s dad, of course). Colt struggles between Abby and Heather while also worrying about his mother, who wants to leave Garrison. Rooster begins to dislike his new job and eventually gets himself fired and his friend deported. To end this segment, Rooster takes over the bar to allow Maggie to travel, and Heather has complications with the baby.

Season 3 is the height of the series. The comedy and the drama perfectly balance each other out for what is fantastic television. Not one character was free from an uncomfortable situation. Having Heather lose the baby in the end is, what I feel, a cheap cop-out. After all, what is more redneck than marrying your high school sweetheart while having a child with someone 12 years younger than you?

In part four, after losing the baby, Colt makes it his mission to buy the neighboring Peterson ranch and propose to Abby, which he does. Rooster and Mary break up. Beau begins dating Brenda Sanders, a woman he was accused of having an affair with before the show started in response to Maggie moving out. The relationship ends after he kisses Joanne, realizing his feelings for Joanne are stronger. Rocky Mountain Natural Gas asked the Bennetts to build a pipeline through their land, which would give them the money to buy the Peterson ranch. After Beau suffers a heart attack and leaves the boys hanging about his decision with the Peterson ranch, they use their power of attorney to steal Beau’s money to buy the ranch. The season ends with the company informing them that the deal is off due to protests.

The dynamics of part three carried into part four, where various themes dictated the show’s plot for the remainder of the series. Beau’s love triangle was excellent, and Rooster’s short-lived romance with Jen the engineer from the pipeline company was absolutely not long enough. It would have been interesting seeing Rooster have a relationship with his polar opposite: a civilized, intelligent woman who campaigned for Al Gore in college.

With Colt and Rooster on Beau’s bad side (which turn out to be all of his sides), part five points the blame to Colt for bankrupting the family. After a pregnancy announcement from Abby, her mother agrees to secretly invest in Colt’s ranch, causing conflict later in the series. Colorado wildfires cause Rooster to steal a Neumann’s Hill generator to save Iron River, but the Peterson ranch burns. Colt is arrested trying to return the generator after the fire, but the charges are dropped. After a heated argument, Beau apologizes to Colt for being hard on him his whole life. The part ends with Rooster being chased out of town by Mary’s boyfriend Nick, an ex-con, because Rooster continued to sleep with her.

Part five saw the series take a shift from comedy to full drama, a decision which did not sit well amongst fans. The Colorado wildfire was an excellent arc, but the addition of Nick certainly through the whole cast through a loop.

In 2017, Masterson was accused of four counts of sexual assault, prompting him being fired in December of that year. Masterson was not arrested or acquitted and his character was written out, upsetting many fans. He was rumored to return again since his off-screen death resulted in no body being found, but he did not return to the series for the rest of its run.

Part six changed the tone for the rest of the series. In the first three episodes, Rooster goes missing and is presumed dead (there was never a body found), with Nick being presumed the killer. Beau chases Nick out of town and the family mourns, with Mary becoming addicted to drugs. Following this, Abby’s baby girl is born and named Peyton (after Peyton Manning), and Luke Matthews shows up on the Bennetts’ porch claiming to be related to the Bennetts. The struggling army veteran reveals himself to be the son of Beau’s late brother, who died in the Vietnam War and was not known to have children. After refusing to treat his PTSD and having a one-night stand with Mary, they run off to Vegas with Colt’s money. Abby leaves Colt following an argument about trust.

During this season, I was thinking, “this is why the show will end.” Sure enough, the final season of the series was announced after Part six was released. The introduction of Shepard did not fill the gap left by Masterson, and there was very little comedy left from the earlier parts. It felt like watching a different show.

In part seven, Colt spends time trying to make amends with his father and his wife while also trying to keep his head above water. Luke comes back to town to make amends, while Mary calls Nick to help with her drug addiction. Joanne reveals to Beau that she has Alzheimer’s disease, and they get married. After Colt is caught on camera blowing up a Neumann’s Hill dam that was jeopardizing several ranches, Beau does the unthinkable to save his son: he sells Lisa Neumann the Iron River Ranch, which had been in the Bennett family for four generations. Branded a hero by the town, Colt establishes a co-op with the local independent ranchers to compete with Neumann’s Hill. The part ends with Colt, Beau and Luke, all armed, heading to confront Nick. The final scene is Nick getting shot dead in his trailer.

Part seven was better than part six, but not by much. Abby was basically unwatchable, Mary continued on her downward spiral and Colt got away with breaking too many laws. The cliffhanger, however, kept me on the edge of my seat for months. Unfortunately, there was no Ex Machina appearance from Masterson, despite major speculation and fan theories.

The eighth and final part of The Ranch is also the most predictable. Colt knows who killed Nick — it turns out to be Heather. Mary gets clean and takes the fall for Heather, resulting in her probation, since Mary was able to give a more convincing argument. Colt has a pass with death after being pinned by his truck in dangerously cold temperatures. During this time, he has a hallucinogenic conversation with his late brother through Siri, which he was yelling at previously (yes, this actually happened). Fortunately, Colt’s family finds him in time, and Abby  begins dating him again. Lisa Neumann gives the Bennetts 60 days to find a new place to live, and Luke decides to treat his PTSD after his friend from the military takes his own life. Maggie returns to say she’s moving to Florida permanently with her new partner, who happens to be a woman. After a disease amongst Colt’s and the Neumann’s herds, Lisa plans to sue Colt until he provides evidence it did not come from his cows. In trade, Lisa gives the Iron River Ranch back to the Bennett family.

As a stand-alone season, part eight was great; as the closing of this once great show, it was terrible. Every single conflict was painted out by simply reading the episode descriptions.

Although making Maggie an LGBTQ+ character was interesting on paper, it was out of character for her and did not make sense in the scope of the whole series. The way the show writes an LGBTQ+ character feels like a brief footnote at the end of the story  — Maggie begins to have an offscreen relationship with an offscreen woman three episodes before the finale. Seems cheap to me.

Additionally, the cast got too many “get out of jail free” cards. Colt committed at least two crimes against the same person and was not punished. He would always commit crimes against Lisa Neumann, the most powerful rancher in Colorado, and she would do nothing. The family was basically broke for half the show but was not starving. The most unrealistic aspect of all: Colt built his own house without any prior knowledge on how to do so, and it magically came together in a few months with only him as the builder.

Even with its faults, The Ranch remains one of the most popular Netflix shows to date. This is still one of my favorite shows, even with a decline in comedy during the second half of its run. If you are looking to be invested in a show, this is the one for you. If you are just looking for some laughs, either stop after part four or look somewhere else.