Ambiguity in ‘Outer Range’ called for a leap of faith by its stars

Imogen Poots.
(Erik Tanner / For The Times)

There are rival ranching families locked in an existential struggle, a dubious hippie fueled by secrets, singing heirs and buffalo stampedes. But really, “Outer Range,” Amazon’s western/sci-fi hybrid series starring Josh Brolin and Imogen Poots, is about a void: a vast, undefinable hole. And several leaps of faith.

“This was new ground,” says executive producer-star Brolin of the show’s elusive tone and metaphysical leanings. The plot involves what happens when Brolin’s Wyoming patriarch, Royal, finds what looks like a giant sinkhole — with inexplicable properties — on his land. What it is, and what it means, defies description. That ambiguity was a major part of what drew him back to series television for the first time since 2003 (as idealistic senator “Mister Sterling”).


“You’re in no man’s land,” Brolin says of “Outer Range’s” uneasy balancing act. “You don’t understand exactly what you’re going for, and I don’t think even the director knew. We’re playing on this dramatic plane, but there are moments of tongue-in-cheek and parody there. Because it’s a tone we hadn’t figured out, you fail a lot. You feel like you look stupid. You feel like you can’t act. But then you keep going, and you find some magic within that. If you’re willing to delve into embarrassment, there’s magic in there somewhere.”

“Josh is totally right,” Poots says of the series, which was created by playwright Brian Watkins. “I think because we were figuring it out and being given the ingredients as we went along, we were all sort of committing to the loony bin as a team. There is something quite freeing and punk about that: ‘We’re going to piss people off!’”

A man with facial hair poses for a photo on a black background
Josh Brolin on “Outer Range”: “I think because we were figuring it out and being given the ingredients as we went along, we were all sort of committing to the loony bin as a team”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Brolin says, “Even the hole. I’m like, ‘What is the hole?’” Poots laughs as he goes on: “‘Where’s Brian? Explain the hole to me again? What does it represent? Is it America? Is it our current social fabric? Is it about COVID?’

“Not that we were in total confusion. We would pick a direction, and we would stick with it. There was nobody who wasn’t fully committed. Usually there’s somebody who’s concerned with the cosmetics of it, how they’re being perceived on Instagram.”

“Outer Range” defies definition with its mix of genres, idiosyncratic pace, odd characters and heavy drama marbled with streaks of absurdity. Brolin plays patriarch Royal Abbott, who does not hesitate to protect his family — legality or morality be damned.

“That’s an old-school idea: Fight for your family, an-eye-for-an-eye kind of thing. I’m from an area like that. And I understand the opposite: Venice Beach, a potpourri of thoughts,” says Brolin, who grew up on a ranch reading the likes of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.

The anything-but-elementary Abbotts are losing their grip on their empire when they cause the rival family’s son’s death in a fight and Poots’ character, a mysterious young woman named Autumn, arrives. When Royal comes upon what Brolin and Poots refer to as “the void” or “the hole,” he plays his cards close to the vest, leading to potential disaster for all involved.


“It’s so brittle and comes crashing down because of this idea of what a man is supposed to act like,” Brolin says, “and I love that it backfires in a terrible way.”

Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, left, and Imogen Poots as Autumn in "Outer Range."
(Richard Foreman / Amazon Prime Video)

“It’s so brittle and comes crashing down because of this idea of what a man is supposed to act like, and I love that it backfires in a terrible way.”

— Josh Brolin

Watkins brought other playwrights (Lucy Thurber, the late Dominic Orlando) into the writers room. Perhaps as a result, the series takes its time developing characters, and the plot moseys along, albeit with a few “holy s—” moments at the ends of episodes. “Outer Range” plays like an epic indie film that savors its mysteriousness.

“I think that drawn-out pace allows for the audience to have time as well,” says Poots. “It’s a thinking genre piece in some ways. There is a sense of an experimental-album quality to it, where the tracks are supposed to correlate and, right at the end, you see it as its own beast. I do think television is the perfect medium for this.”

Poots embraces the show’s ability to slowly reveal secrets and develop characters over eight hourlong episodes, but she acknowledges that deliberate pace caused internal concerns about Autumn’s journey, through which she changes her colors in the extreme.

“Imogen probably had the toughest job, with the biggest arc there,” says Brolin.


“In those initial Zooms, people were ‘Worried About Autumn,’” Poots adds.

“A lot of people expressed a lot of panic about my character in the beginning,” the Brit says, laughing wickedly before taking on a hard American accent: “‘Ooh, this is gonna be really difficult.’ And I said, ‘I wanna prove you wrong; I wanna do it!’ And the director, early on, said to me, ‘Everybody’s very worried about Autumn.’ And I was like [rubbing her hands together vigorously], “‘Great!’”

If Autumn seems spacey at times, it’s because of what she knows that no one else does.

“It was fun to play a character who felt that living nostalgia, that strange déjà vu, that strange realization she was meant to be here. The power of that knowledge, what it does to a person — it was quite fun.”

Imogen Poots.
(Erik Tanner / For The Times)

Both actors embrace the discomfort the show has caused in some corners.


Brolin says, “Reading reviews, I thought they were fairly accurate. There was one really scathing review that was my favorite. It was very reactive. I don’t think this critic understands how happy this makes me. The verve with which the review was written was just as powerful as a great review. It hit a nerve in you; it doesn’t matter.”