“We’re the Pogues, and our mission this summer is to have a good time, all the time.” —John Booker Routledge
Outer Banks begins with a man standing atop a half-built home overlooking the ocean. Well, he’s not actually a man, yet. He’s a teenager. But he certainly looks like a man.
In a weirdly stained T-shirt and with a ratty, wringed bandanna around his neck and almost all of the buttons on his shirt unbuttoned, he takes a swig from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon before balancing on the apex of the roof, his Converse All Stars bending.
Soon, two more teenagers who look like men appear on screen along with a girl who looks more age-appropriate and is bemoaning the fact that the construction has displaced a turtle habitat. “But who cares about the turtles, I guess,” she resigns.
All of this stuff—ocean-view houses, the constant construction of more of them, increased worry for turtles—is pure Outer Banks, North Carolina. Everything that follows this scene is pure Outer Banks, Netflix show. And there is an overwhelming difference between the two.
Outer Banks, which has sat in Netflix’s Top 10 since it premiered in April, is a show about kids from the wrong side of the tracks; it’s a show about young love; a show about fathers and sons; a show about how we hold onto the summers of our late adolescence so tightly because we know they’re the last vestiges of true freedom. But it’s also a show about a group of friends searching for sunken treasure after the father of one of the friends disappears off the face of the earth.
Netflix has recently been attempting to corner the market on specific subgenres with its original series, but with this one the streamer tried to corner every market in one fell swoop. The show is most obviously inspired by The O.C. and One Tree Hill—but there are also hints of National Treasure, Summer Catch, The Goonies, Into the Blue, How to Get Away With Murder, The Notebook, all of the John Hughes movies, and somehow, that movie about drug dealers that was poorly narrated by Blake Lively. The way in which Outer Banks so brazenly tries to be everything is deeply funny, incredibly watchable, and, quite frankly, impressive.
But Outer Banks is coming for the fantasy corner, too. Because while it’s named after a real place, it exists in a world of its own. As someone who’s vacationed in the Outer Banks a handful of times, I can’t claim to know about the demographics of its year-round citizens or its local politics, but I definitely know that the Outer Banks in Outer Banks is not the one that I’ve visited—the biggest hint is that, save for that opening scene, you hardly ever see the ocean in Outer Banks. (Reminder: The Outer Banks is an island in the Atlantic Ocean.) There is no Duck Donuts in Outer Banks; no talk of the Wright brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk. Instead, there’s drugs, murder, inlets for days instead of ocean, and a class war between the Pogues (poor kids) and the Kooks (rich kids) that is on the verge of boiling over. The way in which Outer Banks so brazenly flouts reality is deeply funny, incredibly watchable, and, quite frankly, impressive.
The existence of this other universe demands documentation, though. We know much of our world, but this one has yet to be thoroughly studied. Until now, of course. What follows is a ranking of everything in Outer Banks’ Outer Banks—the people, the artifacts, the rituals. They are ordered according to three things: their overall quality, their contributions to the show, and, most of all, my personal preferences. In the words of JJ as the Pogues were being chased out of that half-built mansion by security guards: “Let’s go.”
Wheezie Cameron is the younger sister of Sarah, the rich girl who, of course, becomes embroiled with the show’s lower-class protagonists. There is no further explanation for her name—this 13-year-old neither breathes with difficulty nor looks like Lil Wayne. By all indications, Wheezie is … not even a nickname. No one ever calls her anything else. Just Wheezie.
Either way, Wheezie stinks. She is a snitch who constantly aligns herself with Sarah’s incredibly archetypal teen-movie jerk boyfriend, she is unbelievably helpless, and she is low-key the catalyst for most of the bad things that happen on this show.
43. John B’s uncle
[Points to the screen and whispers to date] That’s Uncle T.
OK, so, we’re gonna hit on him much further down, but John B is John Booker Routledge, the main character on Outer Banks. He’s the one whose dad disappeared. Uncle T, meanwhile, is the person who’s supposed to be John B’s guardian following the disappearance. However, this shot from Minute 5 of the pilot is literally the only time we see him. “At the moment, he’s in Mississippi, building houses,” John B explains via voice-over. Sounds like a kind of a dirtbag!
42. Cheryl from DCS
The other person presumably tasked with overseeing the welfare of John B (who, it must be noted, IS A MINOR), Cheryl from the Department of Child Services, is as bad at her job as Uncle T is at being a legal guardian. In the fourth episode, Cheryl finally detains John B and then attempts to bring him to a juvenile center because again, he’s a minor living without a guardian. But on the ride there, John B begs Cheryl to let him out of the car so he can look for a photograph that he dropped out of the window. Knowing full well that this boy in her custody is a flight risk who lives in a beer-bottle-filled shack and is literally on a daddy-issues-laden treasure hunt, she unlocks the car door. He runs away immediately.
And … this is literally the last time Cheryl is seen on Outer Banks. I assume that’s because she got fired.
41. “Vlad and Val,” as a bit
When John B and Sarah Cameron finally put their differences aside (differences that are mainly fueled by them super wanting to bone each other) and team up, they assume aliases because … well, I guess I don’t fully understand why. The point is that they both start doing fake Russian accents. It is not flattering.
40. Agent Bratcher and the SBI
Outer Banks gets fucking REAL by the Season 1 finale; like, cop-murder-and-ensuing-manhunt real. And finally, after I spent episodes screaming at the TV about how the situation had devolved beyond the control of the local authorities, the SBI—the State Bureau of Investigation—is brought in. Alas, everybody at the SBI, like Cheryl, is terrible at their jobs. They’re led by Agent Brachter, a guy who projects as smart and adept but … is not. The guy watches Sarah Cameron confront her dad and confess that her brother killed a police officer—I told you shit gets real—and regards the whole situation as just a dustup between a father and his hormonal daughter. Look at his face!
This is not the face of a man who is taking a murder investigation seriously. Agent Brachter is bad; the SBI is bad. (To be fair, I already knew this because the SBI is the agency that messed up the Michael Peterson case in The Staircase.)
39. The Wreck
The Wreck is the restaurant owned by the parents of Kiara, the girl Pogue. It’s an institution, according to John B; a “total cash cow with the tourists.” It looks like they mostly do seafood boils. It’s ranked this low only because it’s not used as a setting for a fistfight between rich kids and poor kids. Not having John B say “You know what I like about rich kids? Nothing,” before punching a Kook at The Wreck is a huge missed opportunity.
38. Lady Crain
Hm, right, so … Lady Crain is this infamous old lady on the island who “killed her husband with an ax.” “On certain nights, when the moon is full, you can see her in the window,” Kiara says. Now, based on that description, you’d assume Lady Crain was a ghost from a long time ago, right? Like, being able to see a regular, living human being standing in their house wouldn’t exactly be a supernatural experience. But apparently Lady Crain is not a ghost. Apparently she is a still-living person with the eyes of a demon?
I … can’t begin to explain how good this show is.
37. Deputy Shoupe
Played by One Tree Hill alum Cullen Moss, Shoupe is—I’m pretty sure?—a crooked cop in the pocket of Ward Cameron, Sarah and Wheezie’s dad. But he’s also just a jackass. Here he is patronizingly quoting Snoop Dogg to his black superior:
He should’ve gotten punched in the face for this.
Also, after he takes over as sheriff, he leads a manhunt for John B, and this scenario plays out about 500 times:
Policeman on megaphone: John B, come out! We’ve got you surrounded!
[John B escapes from a house that is very much not surrounded.]
Shoupe: Goddammit! He got away again!
36. JJ’s dad
35. Rose Cameron
34. Kiara’s parents
33. Pope’s dad
As with all great teen shows, parents on Outer Banks are mostly an afterthought. Out of necessity, they are characters without agency. While any real-life parent would handle the events in Outer Banks by being like, “Hey, child who is tied up in a murder investigation, you’re fucking grounded,” the parents on the show are mostly like, “By god, I can’t believe my child is so reckless, whatever can I do about it?!” They’re ranked in this order because some are worse than others—JJ’s dad is an abusive drunk, while Pope’s dad is an overall good guy—but all of them are ineffective at controlling their children, so they don’t get to crack the top 30.
32. The actual Outer Banks
Again, the actual Outer Banks have little to no bearing on Outer Banks. The setting of the show in no way resembles the actual place. I wonder whether people who live in the Outer Banks are happy or mad about that. They were probably glad that Netflix didn’t film in their towns, but they’re probably a little bummed out that millions of people now associate the OBX with drug dealers and cop killings.
My god, Kelce. As the token black friend in the rich-kid posse, Kelce is one of the most fascinating characters on Outer Banks. Since he’s treated like a pawn by Topper and Rafe throughout the season, you’d assume Kelce would have some sympathy for the Pogues. Yet he is staunchly loyal to his wealthy asshole friends who hardly seem to acknowledge his presence.
His self-loathing is deep, and I’d like to see it explored further in Season 2.
Before John B and Sarah Cameron consummate their forbidden lust, they mostly flirt by throwing around bags of SkinnyPop. “What the hell?” is right.
29. Big John Routledge
John B’s dad, Big John, disappeared after his partner in treasure-hunting, Ward Cameron, bashed his head and then dumped his body in the ocean. He didn’t actually die then—he washed up on a remote island, where he lived for a couple more days and then died. But Big John’s ranked low for two reasons:
1. Knowing that treasure-hunting was probably going to get him killed—and therefore orphan his only son—his only preemptive actions to take care of his to-be-abandoned son were to leave a trail of obscure clues about the same quest that led to his death. How about a will? No? Maybe just a joint checking account? Too hard? OK, chill.
2. I don’t mean to sound rude, but, um … Big John is not nearly hot enough to be the father of John B:
I’m sorry, but these people are not related.
28. The Royal Merchant
The Revolutionary War–era ship that sunk off the coast of the Outer Banks and contained over $400 million worth of gold. Sunken ships are actually one of the only parts of Outer Banks based in fact.
27. Denmark Tanney
Denmark Tanney is the key to the sunken treasure. An undocumented passenger on the Royal Merchant, he survived the shipwreck and then took all of the gold for himself. With that gold, he purchased a massive amount of land and dubbed it Tanneyhill. (As a “major” “coincidence,” that land is where the Camerons’ house sits in modern day.) A freed slave who was suddenly the wealthiest person in the area, though, Tanney was eventually lynched by a mob, though he was able to hide the gold before his death.
26. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In “Spy Games,” John B and Sarah Cameron take a trip to UNC, where they look at some old documents belonging to Tanney … and also have an impromptu makeover montage (because apparently college kids don’t wear Chuck Taylors and only wear Vineyard Vines; that super checks out). Based solely on scenes in Outer Banks, UNC is a splendid place that is very accommodating to random teenagers who want to search their private archives.
This is a rich-people event hosted at a country club; there, Ward Cameron is “coronated as Guardian of the Knights of the Rhododendron,” whatever that means. Mostly, it’s important because every teen show about class warfare needs to have a rich-people event that is crashed by the poor kids. (See: The O.C., “The Debut.”)
Topper is Sarah Cameron’s jerk rich boyfriend—a perfect villain in the mold of John Hughes teen movies. Similar to Wheezie, there is zero indication that Topper is a nickname; this is just a thing that everyone calls him, as if it’s completely normal for someone to be named TOPPER. Played by Austin North, he has all of the qualities of teen villain: a punchable face, a wardrobe made up solely of polo shirts, and a shocking penchant for serious violence; he also handles Sarah not wanting to have sex with him by getting visibly mad and then snorting a mountain of cocaine.
But the real beauty of Topper is that, deep down, he’s an insecure little baby with deep abandonment issues. After Sarah dumps him for John B—and I can’t explain how clear it is that she dumps him—Topper spends the rest of the season chasing her and crying and saying things like, “But Sarah, I’m the one who really loves you!” And it’s like, dude, give it a rest—it is OVER, man.
I really love Topper, the only character on this show who is simultaneously a dangerous cokehead and a gigantic wuss.
23. Sheriff Peterkin
The only uncorrupt cop on the show, and also the only person who seems to genuinely care about John B’s health. It’s too bad that Rafe did all that cocaine and then shot her.
22. John B’s Chuck Taylors
I mentioned the Chuck Taylors up top; they’re mighty important; worn by John B in nearly every scene in Outer Banks. I shudder to think of how badly fucked his arches are.
21. John B’s sex church
After episodes of Topper-curving, SkinnyPop-related flirting, and jaunts to Chapel Hill, Sarah Cameron and John B finally get busy. But they don’t do it at John B’s house—y’know, the place where he lives alone—or on John B’s boat. No, no—it has to be someplace special. Someplace like a run-down house of worship maybe?
Nothing like losing your virginity next to a dusty statue of the Virgin Mary.
Kiara is the one Pogue girl on the show, and thus seems to think she has a monopoly on all of the Pogue guys (who, we’re told, all like her, in a way that seems a bit incestuous). I don’t like this about her—she gets jealous when Sarah starts hanging out with John B (even though Kiara denied John B), and it’s a really bad look. She also once called the cops on a party she wasn’t invited to.
But she did save JJ and Pope from getting beaten to death by Kooks by lighting a projection screen on fire at an outdoor movie night. Couldn’t she have just, y’know, yelled to one of the many adults who were there? Sure. But lighting something on fire is always a much cooler way to deal with one’s problems.
19. Sarah Cameron
By now you know who she is—the Val to John B’s Vlad, lover of SkinnyPop, lost her v-card in a church, has a surprising amount of pull at UNC. She is a bit of a cipher though—she’s introduced to us both as a flower child and a mean girl who serially cheats on her boyfriends, but then she’s also shown to be warm and not judgmental of people who don’t have as much money as her. The truth is, really, that she’s like Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation—a character who morphs her personality to fit her current boyfriend. Which explains the church sex with John B.
18. HMS Pogue
John B’s boat. I think we’re meant to think that the HMS Pogue is a piece of shit, but uh, it’s actually pretty nice. Instead of searching for treasure, John B should’ve just sold the boat.
17. The Boneyard
“You can’t understand the Outer Banks without understanding the Boneyard,” John B narrates in the pilot episode. “It’s kinda like a three-layer burrito: There’s us and our friends, the working-class derelicts from the Cut. Then there are the Kooks, the rich second-homers. … And then there are the Tourons—totally clueless, here for a week on vacation with their families. Chum for the sharks.”
As we see, the Boneyard is a place where all three of these groups come together to party. It actually sounds nice, a keg uniting these disparate classes. (How do 16-year-olds get a keg? Don’t ask, move on.) But instead of being a sliver of utopia on the Outer Banks, the Boneyard is a powder keg. We see that when John B and Topper get into a fight at a party, which results in Topper nearly drowning John B before JJ stops the fight by putting a gun to Topper’s head. (Everyone gets super mad about the gun thing, but no one ever really mentions how Topper was about 10 seconds away from ending someone’s life.)
I guess I don’t understand why the Pogues and the Kooks would willingly party together.
16. My Druthers
Ward Cameron’s yacht. Very big. Equipped with a Jet Ski and at least one harpoon (with which Ward tries to kill John B). My Druthers is an incredible rich-guy boat name, one of the best I’ve ever heard.
The brains of the Pogue operation; finalist for the Lucas T. Vanderhorst Merit Scholarship (you’ll be shocked to hear this is not a real thing!); dreams of being a coroner; cannot handle his weed. All in all he’s a good dude—and his pining for Kiara is a nice note—but he can be kind of a drag. Sometimes you just want him to shut up about his damn scholarship.
14. Pope’s scholarship
Little else dictates the actions of a character more than Pope’s scholarship controls him.
13. Ward Cameron
I have no idea what Ward Cameron does. He seems to own a wharf? But even more so, he seems to just run protection for everyone in the Outer Banks, like a shorts-wearing Tony Soprano?
Anyways, Ward’s a great villain. (Also, “Ward”: yet another great Outer Banks name.) And the actor who plays Ward, Charles Esten—previously best known for starring in Nashville—is really good at vacillating between imposing-but-warm dad and terrifying murderer.
12. Barry the drug dealer
I LOVE BARRY THE DRUG DEALER. These are the reasons why:
- His name is Barry—what a hilariously normal name for a dangerous person.
- He’s not physically imposing in any way—yet he’s legitimately terrifying.
- Nicholas Cirillo plays the part like he’s in a Quentin Tarantino movie. He’s acting his ass off! He did not need to go this hard for Outer Banks, but I’m glad he did.
- The delivery of this line:
- Lastly, Barry’s quite an enterprising little lad. He seems to be about 21 years old, and aside from his burgeoning cocaine business, he also runs the local pawn shop. That’s a little thing called diversifying your portfolio.
11. The Outer Banks title cards
Outer Banks employs what I call “The Departed Maneuver,” in which a title card doesn’t pop up on screen until way later than you’d expect. It gets me every time—five minutes into an episode, I’ll be immersed in whatever hijinks the Pogues are getting up to, and then all of the sudden the words Outer Banks emerge on screen. The Outer Banks title cards are integral to my enjoyment of the show. This is my favorite one, which pops up after John B gets hit by a car while fleeing the scene of Sheriff Peterkin’s death:
As we’ve established, Outer Banks is not a show about the real Outer Banks. It is, however, a show about Charleston. Most of the season was filmed there—which explains the quaint Southern charm and all of the inlets. Best-case scenario, really: Charleston gets all of their beautiful vistas highlighted but none of the reputational hit.
Just as the Outer Banks in Outer Banks exists separate from our own universe, it also does not follow our laws of time. IT IS ALWAYS FUCKING DUSK IN OUTER BANKS.
8. The Phantom
“The first boat to make the run to Bermuda in under 16 hours,” JJ tells us. “Still the fastest thing Kildare has ever seen.” And aside from being a fast boat, the Phantom is also an unbelievably strong boat that you can drive straight into the eye of a storm:
George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg wouldn’t have died in The Perfect Storm if they had been in the Phantom.
7. Unbuttoned shirts
I’ll let this GIF do the talking:
6. Dirt bikes
The Outer Banks in Outer Banks is a dirt bike community. Everyone’s got one. Topper’s got one; JJ’s got one; Barry the drug dealer’s got one; Rafe bought one with his coke money. No one ever explains why dirt bikes are so popular on the island, but Jesus—the place is lousy with dirt bikes.
5. Rafe Cameron
Rafe Cameron, older brother to Sarah, is Outer Banks’ most absurd character (and that’s clearly saying something). He starts off humbly as your run-of-the-mill rich asshole, but soon he’s a strung-out wastoid running entirely on cocaine, getting beat up by drug dealers and his own dad. Then, he somehow does even more cocaine, and ends up killing a freaking police officer. It’s a tour de force performance by Drew Starkey. This video a fan made titled “Rafe Cameron x afraid” is a perfect tribute to him:
4. The OBX Ferry
To get to Chapel Hill in the fourth episode, John B and Sarah take a ferry. When they get off the ferry, they are within walking distance of campus. The whole trip seems to take about half an hour—just long enough for John B and Sarah to hide down in an engine room, remove some of their clothes, sweat a SEXY AMOUNT of sweat, and have a conversation about how each of them “doesn’t know the real them.” (Side note: I don’t have any explanation for why they hid in the engine room; apparently this ferry is, in contrast to every ferry that’s ever existed, extremely thorough about ticket-taking. Honestly, they probably implicated themselves way more by hiding in the engine room as opposed to if they just stood on the deck and acted like they belonged there.)
Anyway, like I was saying, the ferry ride takes about 30 minutes. Which is amazing, because here’s a map of their trip:
As you’ll notice, Chapel Hill is, in no way, shape, or form, even relatively close to the Outer Banks. You’ll also notice that Chapel Hill is not even adjacent to any body of water. FERRIES DO NOT GO TO CHAPEL HILL.
The only explanation, then, is that the OBX ferry in Outer Banks is capable of traveling through time and space, unbound by the laws of physics—or any laws for that matter. It’s the boat that takes Liu Kang to another dimension in Mortal Kombat. It’s the fucking Hogwarts Express of Outer Banks. I love it so much—everything that is good about this show is encapsulated by this nonsensical ferry.
JJ—otherwise known as “Hotter Theon Greyjoy”—is probably the most well-written character on Outer Banks. With a deeply dysfunctional family life, he’s a broken teen who at the same time shows an admirable amount of courage, integrity, and loyalty. (Two great JJ moments: when he takes the rap for sinking Topper’s boat and when he self-destructs and buys himself a hot tub.) He is this show’s true Ryan Atwood, and Rudy Pankow, the actor who plays him, probably has the brightest future of anyone on the show.
As you’ve likely gleaned from this list, cocaine plays a deeply important role in Outer Banks. Without it, we’d never meet Barry, we’d never get to see Rafe being the world’s dumbest drug dealer …
… and we’d never get to see what it looks like when a man’s (Rafe’s) bloodstream becomes 100 percent cocaine. The most incredible part of Outer Banks is when it suddenly becomes Country Club Narcos; it’s a switch you never expected them to pull, and it carries the back half of the first season.
1. John B. Routledge
As the main character of the show, of course John B is at the top of this list—he finds the treasure, he gets the girl, he survives a shipwreck and heads to the Bahamas for Season 2…
But really, John B’s up here solely because he somehow conned everyone into calling him JOHN B. I’m not sure there’s ever an instance on Outer Banks when someone calls him just John. Even adults are like, “Oh, there goes that John B.” Cops too!
That sort of thing takes a tremendous amount of charisma and clout. John B’s the best because not a single person on Outer Banks even considers dropping the middle initial. He owns us all.