The first few seasons of “Outer Banks” were dumb fun — but is the amusement wearing thin? The start of Season 3 appears to suspect the viewer is as foolish as the Pogues, the pack of adventurous adolescent have-nots in the posh North Carolina beach community of the show’s title. Another season arrives with yet another elusive “Outer Banks” treasure hunt. Are we greyhounds chasing a mechanical Netflix rabbit, never to reach fruition?
When we last left the Pogues, the five-pack had improbably skirted death yet again by jumping off a freighter that was carrying Pope’s (Jonathan Daviss) priceless inheritance of a giant jeweled cross, as well as Sarah (Madelyn Cline)’s murderous family members, controlling dad Wade (Charles Esten) and sociopathic brother Rafe (Drew Starkey).
Naturally, the eternal summer teens all landed on an idyllic deserted island, left to survive on fruit, fish and fun, aided by new Pogue Cleo (Carlacia Grant). Obviously if they stayed in seclusion too long, this would be an entirely different show (like a teenage “Gilligan’s Island”), so in short order the Pogues have been picked up by a duplicitous charter pilot, crashed into the Barbados, are again on the run from the authorities, etc.
Even in “Outer Banks’” few short seasons, we’ve seen scenes like these, or something extremely similar, before (maybe they probably should have stayed on that island a bit longer).
They all eventually wind up back at OBX, to the immense relief of their parents, and even John B’s (Chase Stokes) presumably dead father re-emerges (played by Charles Halford, doing a poor man’s Michael Shannon) in search of an even greater treasure. Forget your giant, jeweled crosses: The elder John and a mysterious collector named Singh (Andy McQueen) are in hot pursuit of El Dorado, an entire city of gold. Centuries of explorers have sought this Midas-like province, but Big John is the one who’s figured out it can be tracked using a diary the Pogues just happen to have in their possession, along with a combination of a few priceless artifacts. (Again, you have to wonder where this all leads to in future adventures — an undiscovered golden satellite, improbably orbiting the moon? Seeing as the show has already been renewed for season four, we won’t rule it out.)
Unfortunately “Outer Banks” loses the fizzy group chemistry, one of the show’s greatest strengths, as various pursuits splinter off. The two Johns are off looking for the artifacts, where John B soon gets fed up with his long-lost dad and starts doing his best impersonation of a surly, eye-rolling adolescent (Stokes is actually 30).
Fortunately, John B’s petulant purgatory finally gives the show’s secondary characters a chance to step up. The new episodes really glide into gear mid-season, as the Pogues struggle to find footing back at home after their pirate-worthy island adventures. We even see Pope attempt to get back into school, a shocking reminder that these gadabouts are actually supposed to be high school students? (Naturally, he doesn’t even finish out the day.) Kiara (Madison Bailey) meekly offers to her parents, “I’m just not into school right now,” in the understatement of the century.
But Kiara has long been the smartest, most underrated Pogue, and she ably grabs the spotlight, focusing on her rebellious attempts to help her friends and her clear chemistry with J.J. (Rudy Pankow). Rich girl Sarah, more stuck than ever between the worlds of Pogues and Kooks, even gets to take over J.J.’s narration in some episodes, as she tries to figure out on which side of Outer Banks society she actually belongs. Best of all, J.J. takes the lead to bring numerous Pogue schemes to fruition, easily outwitting three separate human obstacles with his Southern charm in a single breathless episode.
And new recruit Cleo is practically the brains of the entire outfit, although foolishly diminished into a possible love interest for Pope. The series has an unfortunate history of keeping its female characters on the back burner, but at least Kiara and Sarah fare better this time around.
And even the fractured forces of “Outer Banks” have their advantages: There’s usually at least one cinema-worthy action sequence per episode, like an escape from a water-logged plane crash or a freight-train heist that goes array when the train unexpectedly starts moving. The conflict between Sarah’s father Wade and his bad seed son Rafe reaches Southern gothic standards amid tearful confessions and murderous plots, sometimes simultaneously. Esten is typically commanding as the patriarch panicked to witness control of his empire — and his family — slipping away, and Starkey even manages to wring some sympathy for the wormlike and loveless Rafe. And as unlikely as it seems, the belabored search for El Dorado pays off with a out-and-out thrilling finale episode, in classic “OBX” fashion.
But some of the dialogue is truly clunky: Kiara says, “I have to go by myself … alone,” in case you forgot what “by myself” meant. And Kiara’s father is not the first parent to yell, “These Pogues have ruined my daughter’s life!” but he for sure won’t be the last. And how does a rapscallion like J.J. know that you can change train signals with jumper cables? Who are we to even question? When J.J. takes off on his dirt bike to draw the cops away from his mid-heist friends, why do they then go back for him? Hey guys, there may be times when that “no Pogue left behind” credo just doesn’t make sense. But let’s face it, this show just improves the more you turn your brain off.
“Outer Banks” usually manages to float because the fun outweighs the dumb parts. And despite a rocky start, season three ultimately offers more of the entertaining same.
“Outer Banks” Season 3 premieres Thursday, Feb. 23, on Netflix.