Is "Outer Banks" Really All That?

            A few weeks ago, my little sister ran up to me, begging me to watch a new show she had discovered on Netflix. It was called Outer Banks, a story about a group of teens trying to finish a treasure hunt that the father of the protagonist, John B, started. The show features a beachy, summer-time aesthetic, angsty teenage romance, and minimal commentary on classism on the island where the show takes place. As a guilty lover of “coming of age” TV shows and movies, my interest was certainly piqued. But fearful that this show was just going to be another Riverdale (my apologies if you actually like Riverdale), I was reluctant to watch it. Largely due to my own cynicism towards popular teenage-focused dramas, I expected it to feature subpar writing, unrealistically attractive actors, and stereotypical gender roles. But due to the tireless begging of my sister, and the frequent boredom that comes with self-isolating, I finally complied and gave it a watch.

          I watched the whole show in under a week and I must say, I was thoroughly engaged. From the golden, breezy North Carolina aesthetic to the constant action that ensued throughout the treasure hunt, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. John B’s animated, reckless, working class friend group, called the “Pogues,” featured in the foreground of the show is an unlikely crew. Instead of the preppy, squeaky clean troop that’s often the focus of this genre of television, the friends in Outer Banks are dirty and troubled, many of them dealing with immense poverty, abusive families, and drug addiction. It’s refreshing to see a crew of teenagers that deal with realistic life issues, other than trivial school dances. What most impressed me about the show was the talent of the actors as they were able to depict an array of intense emotions, making me laugh and even making me teary eyed.

         However, among the love triangles, fight scenes, and beachfront aesthetics are slews of stereotypes that caused me to cringe. While most of the characters in the show are teenagers, the actors portraying them are highly attractive and fully developed young adults. Actor Chase Stokes, who acts as 16-year-old John B, is actually 27 years old, meaning that he’s 11 years older than the character who portrays. Also, most of these adult actors have perfect bodies, impeccable skin, and flawless hair even after supposedly swimming in the ocean all day. It’s easy to see how teenagers, especially younger kids, watching this show could get the wrong impression about how they are supposed to look in high school.

        And while there are some attempts at creating three-dimensional female characters in the show, their plot lines remain attached to their male companions. John B may be the focus of the show’s central plot, but his male friends possess side storylines that get a lot of attention as well, including JJ’s ongoing quarrels with his alcoholic father or Pope’s preparations for his merit scholarship interview. However, Kiara, the token female member of the Pogues, is reduced to a mere item of affection. She is frequently sexualized by the other Pogue members, and pursued romantically by two of her male friends within the 10-episode season. Kiara is characterized as kindhearted, somewhat environmentally conscious, and rich, but that’s all of the info viewers get about her. The only attempt writers make at giving Kiara a three-dimensional storyline is her feud with the other lead female character, Sarah Cameron, that has been ongoing since middle school.  

      Similarly, Sarah Cameron is predominantly characterized by her relationships with the men in her life, including those with her toxic boyfriend Topper, her protective father Ward, and her attraction to John B. Her actions throughout the show in some way benefit these men and rarely do herself. In the end, Sarah is willing to risk everything for John B, even though the two barely know one another. She sacrifices her wealth, her safety, and her relationship with her family, all for his own sanity and security. This type of female sacrifice for romantic love is a trope that can be traced in film throughout history from Beauty and the Beast to Twilight. It would have been nice to see some female characters that are defined by more than just their relationships to men and their frivolous altercations with other girls.

     Outer Banks is certainly an entertaining show that evokes summertime nostalgia and longing for adventure. But along with its positive elements come some unsavory depictions of teenagers, specifically teenage girls. Outer Banks can certainly be a fun show to watch with your friends, but be wary of the stereotypes it possesses and how they could potentially damage the way people view teenagers.