Circle up, ladies, and let's talk about the Starz adaption of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I really, really like this show and I hope it becomes massively, ludicrously, disgustingly popular.
Here's the set-up: Claire Randall and her lovely husband, Frank, are taking a second honeymoon to get back into the rhythm of married life after years being separated by World War II. (He worked for MI6 in London; she served on the front as a nurse. In your face, gender roles.) So they're tooling around Scotland, Frank doing a little genealogical research on his ancestor Black Jack Randall, a nasty Redcoat garrison commander knocking around Inverness circa the Jacobite rebellion. They're fumbling their way back toward marital intimacy when Claire touches a standing stone the morning after Samhain (rookie move, Claire, haven't you heard a single folktale?) and gets zapped back to 1743.
There she falls in with a pack of suspicious Scots who figure she's a lying liar, but find her modern nursing skills intriguingly useful. Among them: Very hot, very adorable Jamie, whom we meet strapping back first (right before Claire wrenches his dislocated arm back into its socket). Jamie! Be still, my heart:
As every single review of this show takes great pains to mention, Claire Randell is a strong female character (as opposed to a Strong! Female! Character!), and the actual by-God protagonist of this story. That's the talking point you'll hear over and over and over, to the point you realize how rare and novel she is and it becomes just depressing.
Luckily, Claire's enough to pull you out of the ensuing funk. She's terrifyingly competent and quite literally battle-tested, but she's in deep, deep shit and she knows it. She's at the mercy of the men around her, all of them armed to the teeth, but she's not a helpless damsel, either. Caitriona Balfe plays Claire almost like a Robinson Crusoe—dumped into an unfamiliar environment, she's constantly gathering information, always watching for her opening.
Also she gives no fucks whatsoever: "As St. Paul says, let a woman be silent—" "You can mind your own bloody business and so can St. Paul." GET 'EM CLAIRE.
The pilot was slow and heavy on the exposition, but I think that's actually a good thing. It's the only way they can transform this from a ~~ love triangle ~~ to a genuine, serious emotional conflict. All that setup in the pilot goes to establish why Claire would be genuinely desperate to get home, to the point of recklessness. And they've got to bring the chemistry with Jamie to a boil slowly, because we don't want to think she'd just throw her perfectly lovely husband over for an 18th century Scotsman (no matter how hunky).
And, credit where it's due, the adaptation is solving the reason I never finished the book: too much history, not enough fucking early enough. Which isn't a criticism of the novels, so much as a reflection of my specific tastes. I'd rather read nonfiction than general historical fiction, and I like my historical romance novels about the hero and heroine primarily, with the time period an interesting backdrop. Porting the story over to television means they can cram loads of great period details into a long tracking shot and easily toggle back and forth between smoldering glances and doling out details about the relationship between England and Scotland.
Oh, and speaking of the fucking! It's so refreshingly different from the sexposition of Game of Thrones I frankly don't know what to do with myself. In literally the first 20 minutes, Claire's husband suavely goes down on her ("Why Mrs. Randall, I do believe you've left your undergarments at home" whoops my panties just vanished). And it's not some Showgirls-y excuse to show quivering boobs, either, because they're fully clothed. Watch the nudity as this show goes on, by the way—in coming episodes you'll catch practical, un-eroticized glimpses of Claire's body as she changes clothes, for instance, but you're treated to long, loving shots of the firelight flickering on Jamie's pecs. But he's not some goofy Fabio caricature, either. Sexually speaking, the whole tone of this show is "eh? ladies? am I right? eh?" rather than "HEY DUDES, BOOBS OVER HERE" or "I'll get that bitch a highlander. Bitches love highlanders."
When the initial media coverage of this show began to trickle out, I was worried. Starz honcho Chris Albrecht told BuzzFeed that, "The female audience for Outlander is there," but "now we're simply expanding that fan base [to include men]." Given that dudes are famously loathe to watch anything with a female protagonist (or so goes Hollywood conventional wisdom), I figured that meant whittling down Claire in favor of Jamie, playing up the swordplay, sex scenes that looked like stereotypical HBO—you get the picture.
But nope, Ron Moore and Starz have produced a big ambitious prestige cable show that seems completely at ease appealing to women. Honestly I feel like this show was perhaps made for me, specifically? It's like somebody dumped all my high school enthusiasms—Ren Faire, DragonCon, romance novels, the Highland Games, Turner Classic Movies—into a giant whiskey barrel and let it ferment for ten years. I'm only just barely exaggerating when I say this show is a basket of kittens short of my perfect TV experience.
And it's so overdue. Women make up almost half the audience of Game of Thrones. We happily shell out for movies like The Hobbit. And yet it's just dude protagonist after dude protagonist after dude protagonist. It's just such a relief that somebody out there has listened for five fucking minutes. Though it's dangerous to set the show up as the ideal feminist answer to Game of Thrones—pop culture rarely produces perfection, and if we're too quick to bill it as such, Outlander will only break our hearts. But it's damned sure a bright spot.
Photos via Starz.