Confession: I've never read any of Diana Galbaldon's "Outlander" books -- but I may have to start. Before watching the first two episodes of the new adaptation from Ronald D. Moore ("Battlestar Galactica") on Showcase (Starz in the U.S.), I thought it was going to be cheesy chick lit for the small screen.
Boy, was I wrong. So wrong. Like, dumber than a box of nails wrong.
"Outlander" is an epic romance that transcends time. There's love and sex, of course, but the drama that comes with it is so damn good. Viewers are lured into this crazy world and will simply be wanting more. Most of it has to do with the books, and Moore, doing justice to Galbadon's work, but a lot should be said for the wonderfully conceived characters, particularly female protagonist Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and the two men she is torn between: Rock, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), her husband in the '40s, and Hard Place, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), the young warrior she is forced to marry when she is mysteriously transported back to 1743 Scotland.
Claire is one of the most well-rounded women on television, partly thanks to Balfe's stunning, star-making portrayal but mostly due to Moore, who enjoys writing characters who take on too much then have to struggle to find their way out of trouble. Claire is both stubborn yet gentle, fiercely independent yet knows exactly when to unleash that headstrong side. Well, almost.
"In the beginning she's being very self-protective and she's trying to survive," explains Balfe. "Occasionally her strong will comes out and she'll say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But as the series progresses and as she gets more confidence with where she's at, that feisty Claire nature comes out a lot more."
Yes, while Claire is rescued in the nick of time from baddest of bad guys Black Jack Randall -- a look-alike ancestor of her husband (also played by Menzies) -- even a woman as strong, independent and intelligent as Claire hits a bump in the road every now and again, and considering her new, confounding surroundings, we knew it wouldn't be long before she found herself in trouble.
Shortly after being rescued, she saves Jamie and they wind up helping each other as she is forced to adjust to this new life. For some, it's difficult to know who she belongs with. I mean, the hot, mysterious outlaw with both physical and emotional scars seems like a given, but her relationship with her staid, sexy husband was still passionate. Her old life (or is that new?) seems gloomy and grim and aside from their time beween the sheets, Claire and Frank can't deny that something's missing between them. Almost immediately, even though things are absolutely terrifying in this new old world, Claire seems more alive there. Maybe that's to do with the evolution of Claire and Jamie.
"They see each other for who they truly are," describes Heughan. "They've both got secrets and they're both survivors. This sets their relationship. It just develops throughout the series."
Balfe has chemistry with both men, which not only confuses Claire, but it can also divide viewers. OK, not a ton of us, but she was just starting to reconnect with Frank when they're torn apart. It's hard not to feel a little bad for the guy. But at the same time, we can't pretend Claire and Jamie aren't connected. It's a most bizarre love triangle, a woman torn between two men and lost between the past and her present. But it's also a tale of survival.
"The thing about Claire is that very quickly she has to figure out how to not give her secrets away and how to navigate her way through this very politically dangerous time," says Balfe. "There are so many dangers just being a single woman out on her own with no protection, and the great thing is how quick she's able to figure out how to survive in that environment."
There's a lot of narration, all by Balfe, but it's necessary. It helps move the story along without being too explanatory and it gives viewers insight into Claire's choices and why she does what she does. Gabaldon herself is pleased with how the series is turning out. She admits that she has "nothing to do with the daily shooting or filming or the framing of the show" but Moore and his producing partner, Maril Davis, have been "generous and kind in including me in the production."
She adds: "They do show me scripts and footage from the show. They ask my opinion, even though they're not obliged to take it, but they do, in fact, take account of it. I feel very fortunate in being able to share with them in this production. I think they're doing a fabulous job with it and I approve of everything they've been doing."
Moore's goal is to honour Gabaldon's work by staying as close to it as possible.
"We've tried to make it as faithful an adaptation as possible of the book, so that fans of the book recognize the characters and the story, and really the tone and flavour of the book," says Moore. "In terms of specific changes, we've put in scenes that might have been implied in certain characters' back stories.
"Outlander" is such a mix of genres -- romance, historical fiction, action, sci-fi -- but Moore, like Gabaldon, manages to keep everything as grounded and realistic as a time-travel tale can be.
"The book has a sense of authenticity to it, a truth about both the period of the '40s and the 18th century," lauds Moore. "I said from the beginning, 'We want that to be a key element in the show and we want to really believe that both of these places exist.' Because I'm a strong believer in the idea that if you're going to take the audience on a fantastical journey, the more believable you make it the better. Then the audience will be willing to go with you when something crazy, like time travel, happens."
Moore further explains that setting up both worlds, that foundation, allows viewers to give themselves "over to the drama and to the adventure story we're telling."
Some may question whether "Outlander" is a show solely for women and it's hard to argue with that point as it stars a woman, and is told from her point of view, but Moore shrugs it off.
"This is a ripping good yarn, a great adventure and it has really great characters," states Moore. "I think just like in 'Battlestar,' you can get lost in it very quickly. It's a world that is fascinating in its own right, and I think it is unfamiliar territory for a lot of viewers. It's as alien a world to us today as Caprica, or the Klingon home world, or any other place of fantasy. I think anyone who gives it a chance will be compelled to keep watching."
With news that "Outlander" has already been renewed for a second season, there are many places for the show to go. "At this point the plan is to do one season per book," reveals Moore. "Because the books are quite large and intricate, down the line there could be the possibility to split a book into more than one season but it's difficult to say at this point."
It's a series that not only allows women and men to get lost in this world but to also fall in love with it. Visit the Highlands of "Outlander"; it's not to be missed. I guarantee it'll knock your kilt off.