I love Outer Banks. The streaming series. It’s even better, for me, than Stranger Things. Same warming nostalgia for youth as in Stranger, but the kids are teens in Outer Banks, and out of that awkward phase.
I mean they’re gorgeous. Beautiful people in beautiful places. It’s always sunny and it’s always summer there, like your teen memories. It’s rarely dark, except when the sun sets and there’s a bonfire and twinkling fairy lights.
The girls aren’t chicken-legged in the manner of all other screen entertainment. Is it the shorts? They are long-legged in cheeky cutoffs, but with those lush fat-over-muscle cheerleader legs, in the whitest kicks or the grungiest Chuck Taylors. The boys get broader-shouldered each season and have heartbreaking jawlines.
The young people get convincingly crispier tans and beach hair after long weeks of boats and desert island strandings, under layers of string bracelets and puka necklaces for all. They get around mostly by bicycle and the “Twinkie”, a beat van. The older men are grizzled and the older women have bleached-to-straw hair. The midlife traders, fronting illicit transactions with fishing, are suitably large, hairy and hatted.
The sound track is largely of my youth, the background for outdoor parties and drives to the beach, and kissing.
I watch the whole episode every time with a doting smile on my face, not drooling– a grandma admiring the young, remembering being a girl watching sweet boys and dangerous boys. But they were all just boys.
And like Stranger Things, the very few limited fumblings with sex are gratefully off screen. So tired of jaded humans exploiting the visual limits of achieving gag, so tired of closeups of the mechanics and expulsion of biosolids. This one's about remembering the tickle, the butterflies, the flush of desire, the look of love, instead of the leer. (I can’t answer for any leering in the viewing audience.)
I even identify with the youngsters’ testing, working their way through the group, trying on different couplings, when it’s all new meeting ground, and no one rushes to speak the commitment words.
We witness hesitant flirtation and pure Romeo and Juliet infatuation and attachment. And also anger and jealousy, in the sly pain of girls and the occasional violent explosions of male competition. Yes, that testosterone thing, but the conflicts expose not only the worst but their better nature, (even of the sometimes bad guys), when the target of affection is watching.
(I am thinking of Topper’s turning the other cheek during John B’s assault, and of Rafe’s sparing his father because of a new girlfriend’s belief he’ll do the right thing. I think not a spoiler, since this kind of action goes round and round through the seasons …)
I totally forgive the treasure hunting plot, which pops up and twists and turns and adds and destroys treasures, to give all the characters the drive and urgency to keep moving. Hey, how is the Upside Down any more believable? Suspend your disbelief for good ol’ gold, curses and mortal healing of El Dorado.
The absolute best reason to use young people in an adventure plot is that any stupid choices they make are believable because they're young. They don't have the savvy of the experienced men and women. They don't get how the world works yet. But sometimes a split-second risk taken pays off, and they start to learn something about it.
I just keep thinking what a great serial of Kindle Vella episodes each would make, every suspenseful episode cliffhanger leaves me chuckling. I don't know if Outer Banks started as a book, but I wish I’d written it.
Sunshine and summer. The darkness is inside the houses and in shadows falling over the children’s expressions, as they feel so intensely their family, friendship and love problems. Maybe they look the other way out of respect for each other, but the whole showboat bobs and pitches on the persistent currents of their real problems.
The OBX is an arena where the wealthy, the “Kooks”, play and conduct business alongside the “Pogues”, resident dockworkers, mechanics, country club servers, fishing industry, thieves, drug smugglers, orphans, teachers and police. One relentless current is the class divide and discrimination.
I am not at all offended by this. I don’t imagine other viewers are offended by it. They say that most Americans consider themselves middle class, regardless of how the pollsters rank them; it's only others who are rich or poor.
I identify with the Pogues, but also with the children of the Kooks, because we knew them, worked alongside them, too. Even though I had, and have, so many privileges, I can identify with the Pogues' financial insecurity, bitterness and self doubt about being less than, not one of, not born into.
The class tension affects the characters’ own relationships not only with each other but with their families, of course. Parents are worried about maintaining status for their children, or of acquiring status for them through education.
Parents are the overarching conflict in Outer Banks. JJ has a life and a father like Huck Finn’s. John B’s is the idealized missing father, who may just become an albatross for his son, and subject to a reassessment. Rafe keeps trying to win his father’s love and respect, a rival to his sisters for dad’s affection, and in competition with dad to win manhood. Pope’s parents want him to work his way up out of Poguelandia. Kiara’s parents wonder if enforced discipline, imprisonment, would keep her safe from falling from her place in the moneyed culture.
All the while, everyone in both camps will excuse the kids if their alleged reason for running off is to catch a wave.
I never leave the show feeling stressed, at all, I’ve just been basking in the warmth of their sun.
I don’t know if my grown children enjoy the series the way I do. Perhaps they are not far enough removed from the struggle to smile. Maybe they enjoyed less freedom at that age than I, maybe more.
I’ve never been to the Outer Banks. I’m a Jersey shore girl (a handful of times) and our other settings might have been a pool, tennis courts, a jalopy, a park, yard or patio. I slept in the sun after intense play, and leaned near at night to the warmed skin of friends.
But I’ve been there.
#OuterBanks #RomeoAndJuliet #HuckFinn #OBX #StrangerThings #JerseyShore #the70s #theSeaSpicer