When do clicks equal subscriptions? Premium cabler Starz smartly debuted its new series, the Brit-produced Diana Gabaldon adaptation “Outlander,” for free on streaming platforms. This sweeping epic fantasy about a WWII-era nurse thrust into 18th century, civil-war-torn Scotland has drawn nearly a million viewers since it premiered August 7 on YouTube, VOD and the channel’s app and streaming services. (And, it’s worth noting, a strong female audience.)
But while “Outlander,” which kicks off its 16-episode first season this Saturday and is destined to be huge, fits comfortably into the literary-minded niche created by “Game of Thrones” and “Downtown Abbey,” Starz lacks the subscriber base of, say, HBO (which recently admitted its own Netflix envy).
Series like “Outlander” and Steven Soderbergh’s grim medical drama “The Knick” — also premiering this weekend, on Cinemax, which is owned by HBO — are living proof of why premium original programming is a lure to subscribe to these channels. If you’re not a subscriber, how do you watch? Starz, which has become something of a costume drama haven, knows what it’s doing and is making “Outlander” available on Amazon/iTunes.
But as for the “The Knick,” if you don’t have Cinemax, you’re out of luck for the time being.
For now, watch the first episode of “Outlander,” and read reviews, below.
The New York Times: “In keeping with the Starz ethos, though, it’s a lighter show all around — less heavy and also less substantial. The executive producer Ronald D. Moore, best known as the creator of the modern “Battlestar Galactica,” moves the story briskly among the beautiful Scottish locations, not leaving you too much time to linger over the psychological reality of the independent-minded 20th-century Claire hooking up with her sensitive 18th-century hunk.”
Entertainment Weekly: “Though technically a time-travel tale, ‘Outlander’ eschews the typical tropes. It’s more ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ poignant than ‘Back to the Future’ geeky. There’s a subtly played allegorical aspect to Claire’s adventure, too. You could read her time-space odyssey as a Narnia-esque dream-fantasy, a way to process her war trauma and fluxy identity. There’s also a feminist interpretation: Claire — strong, intelligent, and sophisticated; married to a man who regards her as an equal — has gone down a rabbit hole into a misogynistic, patriarchal society. ‘Outlander’ is good enough to inspire such overthinking. What makes it just plain good is the escapist fun of a romance told uncommonly well.”
Variety: “…the resulting series is a bit of a snooze — handsome, yes, but about as dramatically compelling as the cover of a Harlequin Romance, and too flaccid to make hearts go pitter-pat. More practically, Starz courts a different demographic with this show, which with a few trims could easily have wound up on Lifetime. And based on its not-ready-for-premium attributes, that’s probably the time and place where ‘Outlander’ most belongs.”