Ag Policy Blog

Binge-Watching The Ranch on Netflix

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Ranch is a comedy on Netflix but it also highlights real-life conflicts facing a family on a small ranching operation.

When we lost Marcia Taylor back in February, we lost our chief advocate for writing about topics such as succession planning. Marcia wrote frequently about the topic. We had a long-running series of articles called "Senior Partners" all about moving the farm or ranch down to the next generation.

Lately I've been wondering about what Marcia might think about the Netflix comedy, "The Ranch."

"The Ranch" is a largely profane but funny show about a fictional family on a Colorado ranch. Sam Elliott plays the father, Beau Bennett, a curmudgeonly cuss who runs the small family ranch with his two sons played by Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher. Masterson plays "Rooster" the older brother who never left home and has always worked side-by-side with dad. Kutcher plays the younger son, Colt, a washed up former pro/semi-pro quarterback who came back to the ranch an hometown where he largely lacks the ranching skills of his brother or dad, but is adored because of his old high-school glory days. Story lines often revolve around the three men and their relationships, or lack thereof, with the women in their lives.

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At the same time, the main running theme in "The Ranch" is actually a story of succession planning and transitioning the family operation from the older generation to the younger one. Dad constantly maligns his sons for not working hard enough, not thinking ahead and not having the skills to make major decisions for the ranch. The sons push back that their father doesn't give them enough credit, share in the decision-making or trust them with management even though they love the ranch and believe they will eventually take it over.

The estranged mom, Maggie, played by Debra Winger, clashes with Beau about how to treat the boys. There's a scene in one episode where Maggie tries to convince Beau to travel with her. Despite working every day into his seventies, Beau just can't fathom leaving the ranch for a month because he is afraid of what would be happening if he isn't there to oversee it every day.

The writers at times key in on some various aspects of rural life as well. A couple of weekends ago I was watching the show with my wife when Beau was trying to nurse a sick calf. Money was tight and there was a heated debate between Beau and Rooster over whether it was worth spending $250 on antibiotics for the calf. Yet, there was also a scene in which Beau and Colt's young girlfriend talk about raising calves for 4-H. They recite the whole 4-H pledge. My wife, who is a local 4-H co-leader with her friends, about fell over as county fair week was just kicking off for us. I saw a Facebook post this past weekend of another fellow ag reporter who wrote about the scene, "Damn near to tears. Only one reason. It's coming up on Fair Week in Ellis County."

"The Ranch" highlights the cash-flow problems facing a small family operation, especially when another son returns to the operation. There's the struggle to pay the bills before the calves are sold, and the worries of leaving money on the table by selling too soon. They are rejected for an operating loan at the local bank because the ranch is overleveraged and doesn't appear to cash flow. Then there's sway of corporate influence as a major corporation insists it can offer a sweeter deal for the cash-strapped family.

So it's crude comedy, with F-bombs used more often than the word "ranch," but the show also ismixed with bit of real-life ranch scenarios and the natural conflicts between father and sons in a farm or ranch operation.

I may be a little late to the party given that "The Ranch" first came out last year, but I bet Marcia would appreciate the show's running theme.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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