The Amazon Prime Video series “Outer Range” dropped in April to lots of huzzahs and hoorays, but even its rapt audience was confounded when pressed to describe exactly what type of series it is. It possesses the rural family drama of land ownership a la “Yellowstone“, the science-fiction dread of “The Twilight Zone”, the sinister personalities of “Twin Peaks” and even musical interludes (sung by “Schitt’s Creek” star Noah Reid, as a very strange country boy) that could come right out of “Glee”.
And yet, these still don’t quite nail the exacting tone of the series, centered on a Wyoming rancher (Josh Brolin) who is not only battling a rival’s potential takeover of land and the machinations of a young drifter (Imogen Poots) but also a mysterious black hole on the land that he finds himself repeatedly drawn to.
Editor Trevor Baker is well aware of the conundrum for audiences. “The biggest challenge as far as tone was, ‘How far should we push it’? And also, how much do we sort of take it back?” said Baker, who also serves as one of the show’s producers and counts “The Twilight Zone” reboot and “Breaking Bad” among his TV credits. “You don’t want to go all-in on that first episode, even though the first episode’s pretty wild and it’s an even more wild ride to get to Episode 8. It was about finding that balance.”
That delicate balance is nicely struck in the lushly shot series, which combines genres even in its cutting, juxtaposing an old-school, long-take structure with modern special effects. The result is a dramatic story of a ranch family (Lili Taylor, Tom Pelphrey and Lewis Pullman, among others) that always feels grounded amid otherworldly elements.
“When you have the cast that we had, they give you everything you need,” Baker said. “They just told the stories with their eyes in moments, and (series creator) Brian Watkins wasn’t afraid to say, ‘You know, we may not need this line here,’ because we were really happy with the takes we had.” The editor, who had never before met first-time showrunner Watkins, said the two clicked instantly and threw around names like David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson as guides for their vision. “From a tonal standpoint, that was where we were—but as we talked, we explored it more and more, and the scripts were so filled out. I hope Amazon publishes them one day because they’re really beautiful reads.”
Music is another hallmark of the series, both in the moody tracks woven into the soundtrack and in the songs Reid sings, which include everything from the Juice Newton hit “Angel of the Morning” to Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” “Brian is very musically inclined and was 100% open to us bringing our own style and taste to musical sensibilities as well,” Baker said. “One key scene was edited to temp-track ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ (by Burl Ives) and Brian was, like, ‘What is this? This is awesome!’ And we just ended up using it!”
Baker notes that the edits on “Outer Range” can often be so delicate that they change the timbre of a scene from funny to mournful, as in a key funeral scene that pits the families against each other in a way that was originally intended to be more comedic. “Brian and I both loved it, but when you added in the more emotional second half of that scene (we shot), this more empathetic, emotional range occurred. I was so glad we didn’t miss that.”
Baker said the show was “a great playground to be in” and is grateful it has found an audience that furiously Reddits its many tangled mysteries (including a whopper of a Season 1 ending reveal). He’s also happy he was able to work on the show as an editor as well as a producer, double duty not often seen in television. “It’s unusual, but I think it’s something that we’re going to start seeing more and more in the future,” he said. “Editors tend to have a really close relationship with creators and showrunners. We are aligned creatively, so it has been beneficial for me to be there to also help guide the way and the tone.”