Comedy partners-turned-pardners Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson are set to lasso laughs on The Ranch, a multi-camera family comedy set in the sticks of Colorado. Created by Two and a Half Man executive producers Don Reo and Jim Patterson, the Netflix series that aims to go outside the box and inside the barn stars Kutcher (who’s an executive producer) as prodigal son Colt, a failing semi-pro quarterback who returns home to help run the family ranch with his overlooked, dry-witted brother, Rooster (played by his That ‘70s Show co-star Masterson, who’s also a co-executive producer), and set-in-his-ways father, Beau (Sam Elliott), who has a complicated relationship with semi-estranged wife Maggie (Debra Winger), who runs the town bar. EW asked the ‘70s alums and real-life best friends to riff on their new brotherhood, looking for laughs outside the city, and the proper way to watch the show, which debuts April 1.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you been throwing around ideas for a series, and what were some of the crazier ones?
ASHTON KUTCHER: Even when we were working on That ’70s Show, we started talking about doing another show together. Toward the end of ‘70s Show, we had been playing the same characters so long, we’re like, “What if we do a show where essentially we played the same characters every week, but then every three or four episodes they all died in some horrible incident and were reincarnated in a new character?” Basically, all the character relationships were the same, but we would just die and be reborn into new bodies in a new life. That was probably one of the craziest ones that we came up with.
That sounds pretty amazing.
DANNY MASTERSON: I think it’s going to be a hit. It’s the idea for our next series in 10 years.
KUTCHER: It’s almost like Quantum Leap but everyone leaps together.
MASTERSON: It’s like Posse Leap. There was one where we’re in a cul-de-sac in a weird little town, like a Stepford Wives sort of thing. But it never went very far. There were a few different ideas that kicked around for years.
KUTCHER: None of them ultimately went that far.
MASTERSON: This show started with the premise of the great outdoors, with me as a Wall Street guy coming back to help him run his ranch. Then when Kutcher was putting us together with Jim and Don from Two and a Half Men, they went more toward the brother-father relationship.
KUTCHER: We ended up on my porch having a whiskey one night. We were trying to figure out how we could do a show that was originally funny. We kind of harkened back to the shows that we liked and they all had some mechanic, whether it was Third Rock From The Sun, where they were all aliens so they didn’t understand what was politically correct, or it was That ’70s Show, where you went back in time, so what’s politically correct today wasn’t politically then, so you could get away with comedic things. Then we were thinking about Archie Bunker and how he was just kind of stuck in time, and stuck in his ways so he could be funny in that way. And we landed on this idea of an Archie Bunker archetype, that patriarch that was stuck [in his] small-town values and then bumps up against his sons, who saw the world in a slightly different way. Most of the shows you see about rural life, they’re making fun of those characters. We didn’t want to make fun of them. We want to embrace their ideals and their values.
MASTERSON: We want to make fun of people who don’t agree with them.
KUTCHER: It’s really a show that’s designed around the perspective of the red states.
It seems like the audience for this type of show is being underserved now.
MASTERSON: Yeah, we learned from [’70s Show creators] Bonnie and Terry Turner when we were talking about ‘70s and why this would work compared to other period comedies. For them, it’s the reason that That ’80s Show — which they didn’t do but somebody else did — didn’t work. [That show was] making fun of their outfits and their phones. “Let’s make a cocaine joke.” We did That ’70s Show, and we were like, “Wow, man, that shirt’s badass,” “Wow, those your boots are incredible,” or “Your hair looks great.” We weren’t making fun of the time, and for these guys [in The Ranch], we’re not being the liberal Hollywood writers making fun of the rancher in Texas. It’s like, “No, that guy is legit, that’s the guy who is providing our food, and that guy works his ass off so you can eat.” So those guys who I know lots of — and Kutcher grew up there — those dudes are badass and those are the kind of guys you want to hang out with. So we wanted to have a little ode to them.
How would you sum up Colt and Rooster’s relationship in 10 words or less?
MASTERSON: For Rooster — I need to figure how many words — Colt is his s—head little brother that he also looks up to as his older-brother idol.
KUTCHER: I think I can do it nine words.
MASTERSON: He’s been doing math this whole time I’ve been talking.
KUTCHER: “I hate you. Thank God you’re my brother.” Eight words.
MASTERSON: “I love you. F—, you’re my brother!” I got seven. I win that challenge.
I imagine Sam Elliott would have some amazing advice. What was the best piece of advice you got from him?
KUTCHER: I don’t think Sam hands out advice. [They laugh.]
KUTCHER: Sam comes from a generation of: Lead by example.
MASTERSON: He does not tell you anything, And even if you’re asking questions, then you’re barely getting answers out of him because, like what Ashton is saying, he’s just sort of like [affects Elliott twang], “Well, this is the way I’m gonna do it. You can do it this way or not.”
KUTCHER: The one thing that is phenomenal about him that I pick up every time I’m working with him is just how much he cares about the craft. He cares so much to make it authentic, and real, and true, and honest, and great. Having him around, you can’t help but start to take on the same attitude.
MASTERSON: It also helps with us doing the Hollywood cheat with things where we’re like ‘Nope, Sam’s not going to approve that. That’s not real. We would never leave those feed bags out there.” And then they have to rewrite a scene because that’s not really how it would get done.
KUTCHER: The biggest thing is Sam, I mean as a rancher, he’s like, “That ain’t right. It wouldn’t be like that.” That’s probably the thing we hear the most.
MASTERSON: And the thing we hear every day.
KUTCHER: It’s awesome because you have a resident expert. But it’s not just a resident expert, it’s a resident expert that actually cares as much as you do about it being right, so I think it really pushes us to be better.
MASTERSON: Between him and our prop master Mark Rich, who we had on That ’70s Show and who actually has a grass-fed organic cattle ranch, this is as legit as it can get.
NEXT: Kutcher and Masterson on recruiting Elliott and Winger