Lunchtable TV Talk: Outlander – Tha mo chas air ceann mo naimhdean

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A time-travel-based romance novel on TV is not really my thing. The time period in which Outlander takes place (1743) is equally uninteresting. I have an interest in the American Revolutionary War period, which is just a few years later and on another continent, and the slightly later French Revolution, which rounded out the 1700s. But the 1700s are otherwise not my time.

Outlander is no exception. Regardless of my love for Scotland and listening to the crazy accents there, Outlander gives me no pleasure. Each episode seems to drag on for an eternity, and its heroine is either a bad actress or has mediocre material to work with – or both. In fact the duo leading the cast, Irish actress Caitriona Balfe and Scottish actor Sam Heughan, is dismal. The acting here is a lot of overwrought facial expressions – really laying it on thick – and a lot of silences or very slow responses to build drama. I am sure some of this is the bread and butter of the genre, but some of it is just that neither of these two can act (although I am sure casting required a lot of finding two people who could perform nearly softcore porn on a weekly basis and look appealing doing it, in which case these two fit the bill). (Tobias Menzies is probably the best actor of the bunch in his dual role, but one of his characters is such a subhuman monster that his performance is painful to watch.) The mix of language/accent, the scenery and people’s willingness to get lost in the Scottish history, the romance, the time travel or some combination of all of it means that the acting doesn’t have to pass muster.

I slept through a few episodes but was awakened by some loud, gratuitous sex scenes – and I suppose that is one of the things that draws a fairly… ardent audience. Also, everyone loves the underdog – and is there a greater underdog (albeit a long, hard loss) story than that of Scotland versus England? (It plays out on the political stage to this day!)

What improbably caused me to continue watching is my fascination not just with unsubtitled TV (there’s plenty of unsubtitled Scottish Gaelic here, which may be the show’s best part) but also small and/or endangered languages. The show has apparently ignited an interest in the Scottish Gaelic language. Not by any means an easy or particularly accessible language to learn, I am heartened by movements and tools that encourage the learning and use of the world’s most unusual languages. If Outlander manages to create Gaelic-language awareness, well, then, more power to it.

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