Starz has always been the red-headed stepchild of the pay cable package when it comes to original series. Though on occasion they create a series that has received some critical recognition (like ‘Magic City’ or ‘Boss’) or some series that have been cult favorites (the various “Spartacus” series come to mind), they have struggled to find a series that has launched them to mainstream success. That all changed in 2014, when Roland D. Moore, the key genius behind the remake of “Battelestar Galactica” began an original series based on the best-selling novels by Diana Galbadon, “Outlander”. All of a sudden, Starz subscriptions went through the roof, and it received huge critical notice from the People’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes (though the Emmys have chosen to ignore it). However, because of this critics busy schedule, it more or less passed under my radar. That said, it seems time to at least take a passing glance.
For those of you who are new to either the novels or the shows, the series begins in post World War II Scotland, and focuses on Claire Randall (Caitrona Balfe) , a former British nurse, who is enjoying a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Married before the war began, the two are trying to reignite the sparks, while her husband retraces his Scottish heritage. One night, after observing a pagan ritual around a circle of stones, Claire enters the circle and finds herself traveling back through time to the Highlands in 1743. She finds herself nearly attack by Frank Randall (also played by Menzies) and narrowly escapes, only to be apprehended by a group of Highlanders.
Forced to travel with them back to the laird’s castle, Claire soon finds herself under suspicion for being an English spy, and eventually takes on the role of a healer, where her knowledge as a nurse does her a great deal of service around the castle. She also finds herself earning the attention and friendship of a man calling himself Jamie McTavish (Sam Heughan), as well as the attention of a fellow healer Gellis Duncan. And from here on, I will tread very carefully, even though by now both the books and the series (which the novels play close allegiance too) have given away much of the story.
Viewing this as a TV series, this is well above average. The series uses the time travel device as something of a MacGuffin (though it plays a critical role in future novels) to tell several stories at once. It is a period piece, a fantasy, a frankly erotic romance, and a subtler science-fiction piece. This is right up the alley of showrunner Moore, who was determined to create the opposite of a space opera when he remade “Galactica”. The performances are all very good as well, particularly Menzies whose characters have much more presence in the series than in the book.
“Outlander” is definitely a series that deserves the attention it has been getting. And given the various series that have been coming since it was produced (“Ash vs. Evil Dead” and the more recent “Girlfriend Experience”), it may serve as the kind of series that will transition Starz from minor player to full fledged competitor in the expanding market of TV’s Golden Age. It may cause some critics to moan, but it’s probably a good sing that not all great series are going online.
My score: 4 stars.