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'Outlander' is Heaving, Brooding, Sweaty, Buxom Softcore Fantasy Porn (And It's Also Very Good)

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2014 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2014 |


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I have not read the Diana Gabaldon books upon which the new Starz series, Outlander is based, so heretofore my knowledge of the series is based primarily on a few trailers we have seen of the series, the measured defense of the series from our most outspoken commenter, Mrs. Julien, and the not-so-measured and insane response of the garbage trolls who gave Joanna Robinson heap-tons of sh*t for being skeptical of the series based on the opening credits and theme song.

For the record, the opening credit sequence is crap, and if it were all I had to go on, I’d be skeptical of the series, too. Based on the pilot, however, the series turned out to be much better than I had expected to be, and yet, also almost exactly what I had expected. As I told my wife, “It’s like one of those stuffy British period dramas that you love, only there’s a lot of sex in it.”

Granted, beyond the first season of Downton Abbey, I am not generally taken in by stuffy British dramas, but while the “lots of sex” certainly helps here, so far it is Caitriona Balfe — who plays the lead Claire Randall — that has ensured that I will continue watching and may even grow to love Outlander. I will also note that, based on what I’ve seen so far, calling it the feminist 50 Shades of Grey or the anti-Game of Thrones — as other critics have done — seems like comparing apples to Oldsmobiles, which is to say that neither comparison is even remotely apt.

The story of Outlander is told from the perspective of Claire, and her manner suggests to me a combination of Rosalind Russell, Lena Headey, and Anna Torv mashed into a costume drama, and it works. Balfe plays a nurse who, only days after World War II has ended, reunites with her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies, who played Edmure Tully in Game of Thrones), a historian who was involved in the war while Claire was dealing with bullet wounds and snapping bones back together.

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The two go on a second honeymoon of sorts up in the Scottish woodside, and while it takes some time for the relationship between them to heat up again, the copious amounts of sex certainly helps moves things along. Just as Claire is getting ahead (PUN!) and the two are getting their romantic sea legs back, however, Claire touches standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun and she plummets back in time to 18th century Scotland. Fortunately for Claire, her husband’s knowledge of the time period gives her a leg up while dealing with gnarly Scotsmen and her husband’s rapist ancestor, Black Jack Randall (also played by Tobias Menzies).

Back in the 18th century, Claire also begins her journey toward smittenhood with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), one of the MacKenzie Clan which has kidnapped Claire and refused to release because they fear she is an English spy. Claire, however, proves useful by healing Jamie’s shoulder and expanding their vocabulary with new swear words, so they agree not to immediately murder her and leave her for dead.

On first blush, you can sense where all of this is headed — a romantic triangle that spans space and time between Claire, her 20th century husband, and her 18th century lover. If that’s all that is to become of Outlander — a soft-porn version of a stuffy British drama with a time-travel element — I wouldn’t be disappointed, thanks mostly to the poised, engaging performance of Caitriona Balfe. But I suspect, based on the rabid devotion of the book series’ fan base and the involvement of Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore, that there’s far more to it than just that.

There are eight books, after all, and while the languid pace of the pilot suggests that details will be meted out in a very slow and methodical way, the characters are engaging enough that that’s OK. If these guys want to travel around on horseback for a few episodes while Claire warms up to Jamie while continuing to trash talk the confused sexists Scotsmen, I would happily continue to watch. The ultimate destination of the series seems so far away at this point that it’s hardly a selling point, but the fish-out-of-time premise probably has enough pull for at least a full half season (the first season, by the way, will be split into two eight-episode installments).

All of which is to say, for those who were worried that Outlander is a bodice-ripping Harlequin romance, don’t worry. There’s a time travel element, some Scottish history, the promise of violence, and most importantly, an actual strong female character at the center of the story (and Claire is more than just lip service to the idea of a powerful female character, she embodies one). On the other hand, for those hoping that Outlander is a bodice-ripping Harlequin romance, there’s plenty here for you, too.

And yes, tumblr is going to go crazy for this series, and if we continue to cover it on a weekly basis (with GIFs), we may need to crack out the NSFW tag ourselves. But before we commit to that, I would like to see where Outlander is going.

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