Sitcom life is a little different in The Ranch.
The new comedy, which starts streaming Friday on Netflix, reunites longtime That ’70s Show co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson.
The cast also includes Sam Elliott and Debra Winger, who despite celebrated show-business careers are making their sitcom debuts.
Kutcher plays Colt Bennett, a self-involved football player whose glory days are over. When he returns to his family’s Colorado ranch after 15 years away, he finds that his crusty dad and wise-cracking brother are struggling to keep the place going.
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From the multi-camera soundstage setup to the laughing studio audience, The Ranch is an old-school TV comedy in almost every way — except for one jarring difference.
“One of our intentions with this show is to break a lot of conventions of traditional sitcoms,” Kutcher says. “We don’t have commercial breaks, so we don’t have to treat the material the same way or have a joke at the end of every scene.
“We don’t really have a time limit on the show, which allows us to tell a lot more stories and do a little more drama. It’s almost a dramedy with an audience as opposed to a traditional sitcom, which I think is really interesting.”
Yes, all of that is true, but there’s something else about the show that makes it stand apart: the uncensored language.
“We’re definitely a little more of a PG-13 to R rating,” Masterson concedes.
The characters in The Ranch use the kind of language that people routinely hear in daily life, yet it seems dangerous — taboo, even — when bandied about in the context of a TV sitcom.
Imagine the jolt you’d get from hearing Ricky Ricardo, Fred Sanford or Oscar Madison uttering the granddaddy of dirty words.
Executive producer Don Reo, whose past comedies include M*A*S*H, Rhoda, Blossom and Two and a Half Men, has imagined this very situation.
“In all the years that I’ve made half-hour shows, I’ve always heard another show in my head — the way people really talk — and then I take that show and change it into a sitcom,” he says. “It’s a tremendously exciting thing to have people talk the way they really talk.”
If they observed the dollar-in-the-swear-jar rule, the family could save the ranch.
Not that cursing is all that the show has to offer.
“We’re not running around dropping F-bombs every other line,” Masterson says.
“Our goal is to present something that’s reflective of the people and the world that we know,” Reo says.
Kutcher and Masterson, as Colt’s brother Rooster, worked side by side for eight years, playing misbehaving Wisconsin teens in That ’70s Show (1998-2006). In The Ranch, they have the same chemistry.
“It’s funny, because we really have almost nothing in common besides enjoying each other’s company,” Masterson says. “But for some reason, our comic timing works really well.”
As for Elliott and Winger, it impossible to tell that they’re sitcom rookies.
Elliott’s character, Beau, is something of a homespun Archie Bunker. Winger plays Maggie, Beau’s sassy ex-wife (although Colt quickly discovers that they’re exes with benefits).
“I’ve been in this business for 47 years and this was an opportunity to work in an area that I’ve never worked in,” Elliott says. “As a performer, to make people laugh is an astounding gift.
“The first couple of nights that we filmed in front of a live audience and listened to audience laughter, it was pretty incredible.”
- Episodes start streaming Friday