Hot Teen Treasure Hunt

The characters on ‘Outer Banks’ solve mysteries while wearing as little clothing as possible

It won’t win any awards for originality, but Netflix’s Outer Banks is an exuberantly silly, soapy teen whodunit that revels in its own archetypes, combining amateur sleuthing with a good old fashioned snobs vs. slobs class war. Someone has apparently copyrighted the name “Goonies”, so our gang of heroes calls itself the Pogues. “Pogues. A throwaway fish. Lowest member of the food chain,” protagonist John B. (as in the sloop) helpfully clarifies, as though we’re all expecting Shane MacGowan to lurch into frame. Pogues are resourceful, canny, hustlers. Their mortal enemies are the Kooks, who wear slightly more expensive brands and hang out on their parents’ yachts, which all have names like “My Druthers.”

So John B. and his Pogue chums, in between odd jobs hosing down My Druthers, have a mystery to solve (father missing at sea, a lost shipwreck full of treasure, some guys with sniper rifles, endless MacGuffins to decode) and a posse of comically evil teens from the rich side of town to outwit, and goddamned if Outer Banks is going to let any of that happen without its actors wearing the absolute minimum of clothing at all times.

Outer Banks is an equal-opportunity exploiter, mind you; string bikinis are de rigueur for the ladies, but John B. is generally seen either shirtless or wearing a button-down with precisely one button fastened, and Pogue and Kook alike look like they’ve just blearily stumbled out of a late-’90s Abercrombie catalog. The whole exercise can feel a little lost in time. None of the kids seem to have working cell phones (that darn Hurricane Agatha!), but the roads and rivers are clear for all manner of high-speed chases and the waves are eminently surfable, brah.

Outer Banks
Rudy Pankow, typically shirtless as JJ in Outer Banks. COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020

To put this in terms of The O.C., the womb from which all 21st century teen melodrama emerged fully formed, John B. is both Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood. He’s a brooding romantic who spouts voiceover nonsense. (“My Dad said the island was like America on steroids. Haves and have-nots like anyplace, but magnified and multiplied. The way I see it, the game’s rigged. Maybe it always has been.”) But he’s also a nosy moron prone to getting into speargun fights and jet ski duels.

Owing to shared Carolina geography, there’s more than a little Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill in its DNA, but Outer Banks’ pilot episode rips off The O.C. with such chutzpah that there’s even a near shot-by-shot remake of the earlier show’s iconic beach fight scene. Will there eventually be some sort of society cotillion for the Pogues to crash? Will somebody O.D., or at least get very sick in a toilet? Welcome to the OBX, bitch!

Very quickly, though, we’re thrust into a pastiche of other recent teen fare–a lot of Riverdale, bits and pieces of Euphoria, with a generous dose of Scooby-Doo thrown in for good measure. The Pogues even drive around thwarting rival treasure hunters and corrupt small-town cops in their own Mystery Machine, more or less. Obviously this is tremendous fun, and it’s difficult not to love a show where the rich kids, with names like “Wheezie” and “Topper,” spout dialogue as goofily nefarious as their chiseled jawlines. Nothing about this show is remotely believable, and it’s much better off for it. In the dream logic of Outer Banks, you can solve bad parenting by leaving an audio tape and the coordinates of a $400 million treasure in the tomb of one’s own great-grandmother for your son to find. He’ll know how to solve the riddle. He’s a Pogue, after all.

But why is the show shot with an unnatural yellow filter on everything, sort of like the poolside flashback scenes from Breaking Bad? Why does the rough-and-tumble John B. possess a VW microbus of the sort that can command mid-five figures from some #vanlife bozo after a simple restomod? How is it possible that a bunch of North Carolina townies all speak with the same perfectly flat regionless affect? Why aren’t more of these teens vaping?

Outer Banks doesn’t wrap up these and other mysteries by the time ten episodes breeze by, and the obligatory cliffhanger ending only promises another season of horny magic-hour intrigue. But no matter. I could watch this stuff all day, and by its seemingly permanent place atop the Netflix charts, so could everybody else.

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Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen is a software developer who lives in Syracuse, New York. He has written for Yard Work, The Guardian, and Maura Magazine.

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