Pat Clark

Scene & Heard: High on the highlands of ‘Outlander’

Family knows best.

Months ago, my niece suggested I get on board with the Starz TV drama “Outlander,” a period-piece romance set in Scotland in a couple of different eras. She was sure I’d love it.

Coincidentally, Scene writer Marijke Rowland also suggested the show as a vacation-filler before I took a break last month.

Honestly, I wasn’t completely convinced that a show about time travel back to a 1700s Scotland sounded all that enticing. But my niece did mention something about a physically fit man in a kilt, so, yeah, there was that.

No matter, it was among a list of popular and/or critical-darling shows I vowed in this space a few weeks ago to watch. Big talk for a person who didn’t have access to the premium channel it airs on.

But family sticks together and my niece made sure her television-addicted aunt could watch it.

Family also shares taste in TV shows, it would appear. And – ahem – men in kilts.

Tantalizing tartan aside, “Outlander” drew me in immediately. I devoured it in binge-like increments and now – oh, now – we’re all waiting impatiently for the April 4 return of the show.

The series begins in 1945, where a former World War II British Army nurse, Claire Randall, is in Scotland for a second honeymoon with husband Frank, a British Secret Service officer ready for a new career as a historian.

On a solo outing at a legendary landmark of jutting rock and otherworldly lore, Claire is transported back to 1743. Frank’s ancestor (played by the same actor) is a monstrous Red Coat captain who terrorizes Claire before she’s rescued by a not entirely merry band of Scottish clansmen.

To survive, Claire is forced to marry one of the clansmen, Jamie – he of above-mentioned kilt fame – and, natch, a romance ensues, leaving her, to quote a cheesy Mary Macgregor song from the ’70s, torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.

(If you now have that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day, at least rest assured that I’m sharing your pain.)

I have near-zero knowledge of Scottish history, and the drama is based on a best-selling series of books by Diana Gabaldon, of which I have even less knowledge. But the story is captivating. If I had to guess, the books are of the romance, somewhat bodice-ripper variety, but they’re also, apparently, historical novels. And time-traveling novels. And wartime novels – all of which is to say, the story defies genre-specific fences.

Beyond the romance and tension and the Scottish rebellion, the series is breathtakingly filmed. If the story doesn’t draw you in, the scenery alone is worth the time.

It’s possible I would not have been as drawn to a show like “Outlander” had I not already become a “Downton Abbey” zealot. But falling for that soapy, BBC period piece on PBS kind of opened the door for more soapy period pieces – replete with wonderful British accents and Scottish brogues – to crowd my TV viewing. They’re not just a little addictive.

Which takes us back to the above point about waiting for the next set of episodes in April: That’s the problem with all these premium and cable series. They air only a limited number of shows, then make you wait forever for the new seasons to begin. There’s something cruel about that. Especially when you have to pay extra for the privilege for some of them.

There are only eight episodes in a “Downton Abbey” season, ditto for “Outlander.” Great other cable or premium fare also offer baby seasons compared to the 20-plus-episode seasons we 1960s-born TV heads grew up consuming on network channels. “Mad Men” on AMC airs 13 episodes (which, while waiting for “Outlander,” seems like a bonus); ditto “Justified” and “The Americans” on FX and “Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. Everyone else’s favorite premium channel series, “Game of Thrones,” airs just 10 episodes.

We want more, we want more, we want more.

The short runs also create a binge-watching conundrum: It’s easier to commit the time blocks to indulge on seasons that are shorter. But then once you commit and fall in love, you’re left wondering what the heck happens next. And there’s a tediously long wait with most of the shows – like an entire year.

To be fair, “Outlander” first aired in August and returns just eight months later this April. And, of course, I watched it in just the past few weeks, so my wait won’t be as long as others’.

But I’m still sitting impatiently. If only we could time-travel forward to see what’s in store.

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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