Ever since Netflix introduced its Top 10 feature a few months ago, I’ve eyed it with skepticism. How could it be possible that fully half the list at any given time is populated by shows I’ve never heard of? Case in point: Outer Banks, a series whose promotional photos consist mostly of teens frolicking around in swimsuits. Have you also spent the past month seeing Outer Banks on Netflix’s (probably very misleading) hit list and wondering what it is and why it’s so popular? Have you wanted to know where it falls on a scale of “teen show adults might like too” to “teen show that will make adults want to gauge their eyes out”? Read on as I attempt to answer those questions.
Is Outer Banks kinda like The O.C. for Gen Z?
It definitely seems that way at the beginning! The main character, John B (played by Chase Stokes, a name up there with “Harry Styles” in ridiculous heartthrob perfection), is a teenager living on one of the islands off North Carolina that make up the Outer Banks. The wealth disparities there are pretty stark: There’s the rich side of the island, where the residents (called “Kooks” in local slang) enjoy mansions and yachts and golf courses, and then there’s John B’s side of the island, where the working-class people (known as “Pogues”) live. It’s all very Chino vs. the O.C., and John B’s home life has shades of Ryan Atwood, too: His father disappeared, the uncle who’s supposed to be his caretaker has peaced out, and the local child protection agency is on his case.
After all this is established, though, the story takes a turn out of National Treasure: John B and his friends find a shipwreck, and he becomes convinced that his dad, who’s lost at sea and presumed dead, left behind clues to a hidden fortune. So this show is only part soap opera—it also has a strong element of mystery/adventure that, if you were expecting The O.C. 2.0, might take you by surprise.
Wait, back up—“Kooks” and “Pogues”?
Yeah, it’s weird! Teenagers giving names to the different social groups is the kind of unrealistic trope that nevertheless happens all the time in pop culture—think the “Plastics,” the “the 09ers” in Veronica Mars (another show Outer Banks is sort of reminiscent of, though it’s less clever), and The Outsiders, the last of which Outer Banks’ creators Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, and Shannon Burke have name-checked as one of their inspirations. That said, Kook and Pogue are particularly out there as nicknames! Bustle says the terms come from surfing and fishing, but according to Us Weekly, they’re not really used the way the show uses them in real life. Beyond Kooks and Pogues, this show generally loves a quirky name—there’s John B (why the B?), and his core group of friends includes both a Pope and a Kie, and meanwhile there’s a Kook named, gloriously, Topper.
Does the show have hot people and forbidden romances and love triangles?
Yes, yes, and yes. John B barely wears a shirt, a dress code honored by many of the young men of Outer Banks, and he (along with both of his best male friends) has a crush on his wealthier-than-him friend Kie. But there’s also definitely something between John B and the rich girl whose dad’s boat he works on. Said rich girl is of course dating the aforementioned Topper. Oh and that dad/boat owner is hot too.
Chase Stokes looks familiar, who does he remind me of?
Penn Badgley. Others have said Justin Bieber, but I feel confident that Badgley is a stronger reference point.
Is the mystery element of the show actually … good?
At first I didn’t think so—it felt at odds with the rest of the show’s pleasantly chill vibe. But once you understand that it takes the first few episodes for Outer Banks to morph into a different kind of show, one that’s a little less Dawson’s Creek and a little more Revenge, it might suck you in, ridiculousness aside. My hypothesis is that this may be the secret to its popularity—it’s pulling in the teen soap audience and the Stranger Things audience at once.
But who’s it for exactly? Should an adult watch it?
It’s for teens and teens at heart—and since everyone is regressing in quarantine, that number probably includes more people than it used to. Plus, its scenic backdrops are pretty to look at in a time when we’re all staring at walls.
Is that an endorsement for The O.C. fans?
Adjust your expectations. Outer Banks certainly isn’t as quotable. Its characters aren’t as memorable. But sure, if you liked Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood, I’d venture a guess that you might appreciate John B and co.
In the trailer for the show, someone says, “woogity, woogity, woogity.” What’s “woogity, woogity, woogity”?
To be honest, I feel like this isn’t properly explained. Hopefully in Season 2.