How Danny Masterson Was Written Out of Netflix's 'The Ranch' (And How Dax Shepard Was Written In)
We haven’t checked in on Netflix’s The Ranch since its debut back in 2016. However, the second half of the third season debuted over the weekend — its first without accused rapist Danny Masterson — so I was curious enough to check in to see what happened to his character, Rooster, and to see how Masterson’s replacement, Dax Shepard, fared. Unfortunately, it took four episodes to relay the entire story of Rooster’s demise, and six episodes before Dax is introduced. I stuck with it until the end, mostly out of inertia, and I’ve now seen 10 more episodes of The Ranch than anyone should ever have to experience.
My feelings about the series haven’t really changed since the episodes I saw when it debuted — it’s not a good show, and it’s not a terrible show. The cast, which includes everyone you loved in the ’90s and early aughts, is great, although the writing leaves a lot to be desired. The tone is also weird: Some of the actors (Sam Elliot, Debra Winger) perform as though they are in a stage drama, while some of the actors (Ashton Kutcher, Elisha Cuthbert) perform as though they’re in a multi-cam sitcom. In either respect, the laugh track feels completely out of place, especially in the early, heavier episodes of the season, which deal largely with the death/disappearance of Masterson’s character, Rooster. Also, why does Ashton Kutcher’s character — born and raised in Colorado — have a Southern accent?
Quickly, here’s the premise: Kutcher plays Colt Bennett, a failed football star who returns home to Colorado to work on the family ranch with his father, Beau (Sam Elliot) and brother, Rooster (Danny Masterson). Their mom (Debra Winger), who is divorced from their father, also continues to hang around, while Beau is dating another woman, Joanna (Kathy Baker). Colt is now married to his high-school sweetheart, Abby (Elisha Cuthbert).
Before his disappearance, Rooster had been dating the local bartender/drug addict, Mary (Megyn Price) (aside: It’s strange to see Danny Masterson, who played a teenager in That ’70s Show date Megyn Price, who played a mother of three on Grounded for Life, which aired at the same time). An ex of Mary’s, however, held a gun to Rooster at the end of last season and told him he had to skip town.
As this season opens, Rooster is missing and late for his first day of work. In the second episode, they find his crashed motorcycle at the bottom of a ravine. Most everyone assumes he is dead, although Colt strongly believes that he faked his own death to escape Mary’s ex. The third episode mostly entails Beau trying to convince Colt that Rooster is, in fact, dead and that Colt should not kill the man he suspects is responsible. Eventually, Colt receives a package from Rooster, which suggests that maybe Rooster did, in fact, take his own life. It allows Colt to find some closure at Rooster’s funeral, which features a lot of crying from Kutcher and Sam Elliot, and I don’t care who you are or how bad a show might be, if watching Sam Elliot cry doesn’t get to you, you are not human.
And that’s that. Meanwhile, Dax Shepard doesn’t show up for a couple more episodes. He plays Luke, the son that Beau’s late brother never knew he had, who shows up unexpected on the Bennett Ranch (where they never do ranching work, because they always seem too busy working on cars). Luke is a drunk and suffering from PTSD. Beau invites him to stay awhile and work on his issues. Luke eventually gets involved with Rooster’s ex, Mary, while Colt and Abby’s (Elisha Cuthbert) marriage falls apart soon after she gives birth. There’s also some drama with the Ranch involving a character played by Wendie Malick, because this show needed another ’90s sitcom actress.
Shepard, by the way, is great given what he has to work with, although I do find it amusing that Kutcher’s That ’70s Show co-star is being replaced by Kutcher’s Punk’d co-star (That ’70s Show’s Debra Jo Rupp also has a role on The Ranch as Abby’s mother). As a big listener of Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, I’m also surprised that the entire cast hasn’t shown up on the podcast yet. I do wonder, however, if a recent comment in which Shepard said that he doesn’t care about the results of his work anymore, only the process, was a veiled shot at The Ranch. I love Shepard, but he’s got a lot of insecurities. Take the money, dude, and stop worrying what jackasses like me think of your projects.
I suppose that I should also note, for posterity, that Masterson — who was removed from the show by Netflix over multiple rape allegations — is still rooting for The Ranch.
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The Rooster may be MIA but @THERANCHNETFLIX is back and it’s incredible. Please support this great show we spent years putting together. The cast is beyond incredible. The writers were given the ultimate worse case scenario and instead of throwing in the towel they worked longer hours to create new heartbreaking and hysterical story lines. I’ve worked with most of the crew since the mid 90s on Cybil,70s,Men at Work and until last year The Ranch. They are my family. They work 10-14 hour shoot days to make you smile in 30 minute increments. Support them. Support comedy. Support art. Support the Iron River ranch and the Bennett family. Much love y’all. DM.
For the record, Rooster’s body is never found, which I’m sure is a way to allow them to leave the door open for Masterson’s return. I’d like to believe that Netflix knows better than to allow that.
Header Image Source: Netflix