On April 1, “The Ranch” became Netflix’s first original sitcom, as “That ‘70s Show” alums Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher reunited to play brothers still living with their parents on a ranch in a blue-collar Colorado town.
For a series that has only released 10 episodes so far, “The Ranch” is already an extremely well-oiled content machine.
When pitching the show to Sam Elliott, who plays the duo’s father on “The Ranch,” Masterson and Kutcher tried to emphasize that “The Ranch” would be a new kind of sitcom. The actors wanted to use the Netflix platform to get away with more than any network sitcom ever could, like blatantly smoking marijuana instead of disguising it like they had to on “That ‘70s Show.” Netflix apparently told Masterson and Kutcher that the streaming platform would give the show no notes on standards and practices, saying, as Masterson put it, “You’re allowed to do whatever you want.”
“We can do what every showrunner on a major network has been getting told they can’t do for the last 20 years,” Masterson said.
Elliott, the famous on-screen cowboy, told Masterson and Kutcher that he’d only be a part of the show if they tried to make it as real as possible given the format, and so far they’ve set out to do just that.
The success of the show might have something to do with the underlying fact that Masterson and Kutcher basically grew up together on the set of “That ‘70s Show” in the early aughts. Their chemistry was immediate, as it was with director David Trainer, who originally guided the pair when he directed every episode of the beloved Fox sitcom. As another plus, “The Ranch” has multiple executive producers who originally worked with Kutcher on “Two and a Half Men.”
Now, with the second part of the first season debuting Friday, “The Ranch” is going to start incorporating more people from Masterson and Kutcher’s past, starting with former fellow “That ‘70s Show” star Wilmer Valderrama.
In a multi-episode arc, Valderrama will play a ranch hand who works for a competitor called the My Little Pony Ranch.
“Some rich guy in California bought [the ranch] for his kids and they never go there, so they just sort of leave these guys to go run it for them,” Masterson told The Huffington Post of My Little Pony Ranch. “But it’s a state of the art place [with] all the bells and whistles. Wilmer plays a Mexican immigrant whose been a cattle man his whole life and he’s suave with the ladies, as they say.”
Masterson claimed that although Valderrama has been doing mostly dramas since “That ‘70s Show” ended in 2006, the actor fit back into the comedy rhythm very quickly.
“When he came in, he was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a little nervous,’ and it was really fun to see him like remembering to wait for the laugh and the whole [sitcom] thing,” said Masterson. “But honestly, after like two rehearsals, it was like he had never left the set of ‘That ‘70s Show.’ He knew every moment when to get huge. He got huge laughs on things that weren’t even that funny, just because his timing is so good.”
Other cast members from “That ‘70s Show” will appear on “The Ranch” in the future. Masterson revealed to HuffPost that Netflix hasn’t just renewed the series for a second season, but that the team is already shooting Seasons 3 and 4 right now. Debra Jo Rupp, who played Kitty Forman on “That ‘70s Show,” will show up sometime in those later seasons.
“When we find a role that’s right for somebody that we think is very funny and very talented and is a lot of fun to work with, then they get the first call,” said Masterson. Speaking about his fellow “That ‘70s Show” alums, he added, “We’ll get them all eventually.”
Earlier this year, Masterson posted a photo of a mini-reunion of the “That ‘70s Show” cast on Instagram, with the quote, “Last episode of the season. Had three friends come by and say hello. #theranch.” Besides Masterson and Kutcher, the picture shows Valderrama, Laura Prepon and Kutcher’s wife, Mila Kunis, all on the set. As of now, it’s still unclear whether Prepon and Kunis will actually appear in the final episodes of the first season.
“The Ranch” seems to have debuted at a perfect time. Although there are hundreds of original shows on the air right now, there aren’t many great sitcoms. As Dan Nosowitz pointed out in Splitsider earlier this week, many lauded comedies, such as “Transparent,” “Louie” and “Master of None,” often barely fit the traditional comedy category. There’s an undeniably huge difference between those shows and a sitcom that’s intended to earn laugh after laugh after laugh.
With “The Ranch,” Masterson and Kutcher are trying to bridge that gap. According to Masterson, the writers considered the show to be a multi-hour drama and intended to add in jokes later on in the process. “I’m sure there will be an episode where people say, ‘Oh my God, that episode was so fucking depressing,’” said Masterson. “But we don’t know yet, because this is the first time this has been done.”
Masterson thinks “The Ranch” already starts hitting its stride by this next batch of episodes. “I’m really excited for it to come out because I feel like on a normal sitcom, with ‘That ‘70s Show,’ it took the end of Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, to kind of get going, and I feel like for us on this show, we really got going [by] this Part 2,” said Masterson, adding that he’s much more proud of these upcoming episodes than the first-half, as they were still figuring things out.
“I’m really excited, I wish that this 10 was our first 10.”
The next 10 episodes of “The Ranch” debut Friday on Netflix.