Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys is not only the theme song for The Ranch – a new TV comedy that reunites That '70s Show co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson – its opening line also sums up the mayhem in store: "Cowboys ain't easy to love … and they're hard to hold."
The Netflix sitcom, which debuts on Friday, follows failed American footballer Colt Bennett (Kutcher) as he returns home to Colorado to help run the family ranch – where his brother Jameson “Rooster” Bennett (Masterson) stayed on and paid his dues while Colt was off chasing his NFL dreams.
Joining the sitcom veterans are acclaimed actors Sam Elliott and Debra Winger as their tough-as-rawhide parents Beau and Maggie – the first time either of them have appeared in a traditional multi-camera comedy.
"[Colt] is kind of a ladies' man and he's a little bit of a rebel – and he's the kind of guy that will kind of do anything for a dare," says Kutcher, 38, who also starred in sitcom Two and a Half Men, MTV prank show Punk'd, which he created in 2003, and movies including The Butterfly Effect (2004) and No Strings Attached (2011).
“He comes back home a little bit with his tail between his legs and kind of with that same crisis I think a lot of late-20 and early-30-year-olds are in, where they go off and get a degree, and then they try to enter a workforce where there really isn’t a job for them.”
Of his reunion with Kutcher, 40-year-old Masterson says: “It felt like no time passed, I swear to God.”
His character possesses many of the qualities Colt lacks.
“He’s the last one to go to bed, and the first one up,” says Masterson. “He’s loyal to his family and he believes that he’s the most badass rancher in the state of Colorado. He basically says things that you shouldn’t say – he has no filter.”
Archie Bunker revisited
As Beau, 71-year-old Elliott plays a conservative, hard-working Vietnam veteran with unwavering beliefs, who took on the ranch after his father’s death.
"One of the big things that we wanted in this show is [an] Archie Bunker character who had these values that were maybe stuck a generation ago, but that could comedically say anything he wanted and get away with it," says Kutcher, referring to the bigoted, politically incorrect character from 1970s American sitcom All In The Family.
“I think on some level, Beau is old-school,” says Elliott. “He doesn’t particularly understand the direction [the world] is headed. I think he spends a lot of time being angry, whether it’s angry at himself, angry at the world or angry at the people who are the closest to him. He has a sense of humour, thank goodness … but he spends a lot of time groaning about life.”
Elliott, whose many memorable performances include roles in the movies The Big Lebowski, Road House and Mask, and TV shows Justified and Parks and Recreation, says he took the role based on the quality of the material and unfamiliar format.
“It’s new ground,” he says of working on a multi-camera comedy. “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.”
Bending the rules
While The Ranch is a traditional family comedy in many respects, its creative team wanted to shake off some of the constraints of broadcast television.
“One of our intentions with this show is to break a lot of conventions of traditional sitcoms,” says Kutcher.
“I think sitcoms have gotten stuck in this network machine where the content’s gotten shorter, shorter and shorter. We don’t have commercial breaks, so we don’t have to treat the material the same way and have a comedic 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 bit more drama.”
A woman’s touch
It's a treat to see three-time Academy Award nominee Winger back in front of a camera, decades after acclaimed performances in films such as Terms of Endearment (1983), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Shadowlands (1993).
She plays Maggie, a barkeep and the tough, compassionate Bennett family matriarch.
“Many mothers, especially in families of all males, are sort of the invisible glue,” says Winger, 60. “I’m trying to figure out where I fit in and I think a lot of women feel that way in male scenarios, whether it’s in the workplace or the family.”
All 10 episodes of The Ranch will be available from Friday, April 1 on Netflix