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70s Show reunion: Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson on Netflix's The Ranch

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Greg Gayne/Netflix

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 That70s 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.]

MASTERSON: No.

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

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What was it like for you two to be trading punchlines on a sitcom stage again? Do you remember the last thing you said to each other before walking out onstage before the audience for the first time?

MASTERSON: I remember what Kutcher said to me. Instead of coming out and doing a bow on this show, we basically just sit behind the curtain in the scene, have the curtains move and then we start the scene. And we were sitting there getting ready to shoot the first scene and he looks and me and he’s like “S—, man. I’m nervous!” [Laughs] And I’m like, “Don’t tell me that — you’re going to make me nervous!” Then we did our first scene, and we killed it. We definitely had the adrenaline going for that very first take, and then once that first take was done, we were like, “Oh yeah, we got this.” 

Ashton, do you remember that?

KUTCHER: Oh, yeah, I remember it. I was nervous. And he’s f—ing acting like he wasn’t nervous, but he was nervous too.

MASTERSON: [Deadpan] I don’t get nervous.

KUTCHER: It’s really funny, I was nervous to get going, and I haven’t been nervous in a long time, so it was a really good feeling. The coolest thing that happened is we get the scripts on Monday, and we sit down for a table read, and by Tuesday we have a run-through, and Danny and I have added this spoken or unspoken stuff, where our lines almost become interchangeable. Sometimes he’ll just say my line as I say my line or I’ll say his line as he’s saying his line. We just know it’s going to work that way and it’s a funny thing when you have rhythm with someone, it doesn’t even have to be on the page; you just know. It’s the moments when Colt and Rooster are sharing something —

MASTERSON: Like kitchen scenes and the porch scenes where they’re just going on these 10-page rants — 

KUTCHER: —or just shooting the s—. We just give each other a look, and then we know exactly what we’re going to do. I never even have to think about, “When is Danny going to say this,” because I know the exact rhythm that he’s going to drive, which is the exact same rhythm I’m going to drive. It just comes out at the same time. A lot of times you have to meticulously plan—

MASTERSON: Do you want to say it on two beats or do you want to say it on three beats?

KUTCHER: We don’t even ask. We just know when it happens.

What is the thing that one of you will do to the other one that always make him crack up? 

MASTERSON: Oh, you just take a pause and stare him in the eyes. Or vice versa, when one of us takes a pause and just waits a full beat and we stare at each other, it’s f—ing over.

KUTCHER: Danny can raise one eyebrow, like he has the ability to just raise one eyebrow—

MASTERSON: [Laughing] It’s the left one.

KUTCHER: I don’t have the facial capacity. And he’ll just look me and he raises one eyebrow. And then I kind of look at him like…

MASTERSON: You get that s—-eating grin.

KUTCHER: It’s a slight little — almost like I’m going to laugh, but then I’m like, “I’m not going to laugh.” And then we just taunt each other with it.

What kind of story lines and themes can we expect on The Ranch? What is special about this family’s dynamics? 

KUTCHER: There’s a huge trend now where grown children are having to move back in with their parents. They graduate college and can’t find a job, or their job doesn’t work out. There is a fear about moving back home, and the dynamic you’ll see is that parenting doesn’t end when your kids become adults.

MASTERSON: Or when your kids go to college.

KUTCHER: You’re going to see these father-son and mother-son adult relationships play out in an interesting way, where you become your parents’ confidant, and their problems become your problems. They still want the best for you. You’ll also see two guys trying to figure out how to get on their feet in a world that doesn’t necessarily promote that. And trying to find love and relationships.

MASTERSON: And punching each other in the back of the head as soon as they turn around. [They laugh.]

KUTCHER: And trying to keep a ranch alive when big corporate America is coming trying to take out private farmers and ranchers. Ultimately, all these shows work when you have dysfunctional families and I think this is a dysfunctional family comedy, and there’s going to be love, and hate, and pain, and happiness. I hope people want to take a ride with this family and feel all those things.

MASTERSON: A normal show is 20 minutes long; our show is 30 minutes long, so you have a third more length in the show. You don’t have commercial breaks, therefore we don’t need a blow at the end of every scene; scenes can just sort of hang there. You’ll see in every episode, there’s some extremely dramatic stuff happening, especially as the season wears on, between the parents and then the pressures of the ranch going under. You’re going to see scenes that are heavy, people crying. There might be half a joke in there, but they’re just going to hold there like you’re actually watching a drama. 

There’s some unexpected casting in TV comedy here with Sam, who was recently on Parks and Recreation, and Debra. How did you get those two together?

MASTERSON: We wrote the father character as Sam or three or four other guys who could pull off this type of father figure. We wanted to make sure that we got feature actors — with the two of us coming from TV — to do a show like this that was going to be different. We didn’t want to get the go-to sitcom father or mom, just because we wanted to do a different show with a lot of drama in it, and it seemed like we’d need seasoned film guys to pull this off. And so when the list came, you kind of put your dream team up there and those two were on it: Can we get people who have been nominated for Oscars? Can we get movie stars and the ultimate cowboy? I mean, sh–, we just kind of called them and begged them, and they eventually said yes.

KUTCHER: We sent Sam the material, and he was interested, so we sat down and had a meeting with him about what we were trying to do, why it wasn’t going to be a traditional sitcom and what was going to be different about it. When I walked in the room with him, he’s a very intimidating figure, and it immediately hit me that the guy that was going to be the patriarch of this family had to be a guy that, even though Danny and I are grown-ass men, we still could be afraid of to some respect.

MASTERSON: I’m pretty sure 73-year old Sam Elliott could still whup my ass.

KUTCHER: Exactly. And that was really important to us. Then there’s also a level of authenticity. And as you continue with the show, you’ll see how dramatic some things become. So we knew we wanted someone who was authentic, that could carry the drama, could carry the weight and the responsibilities, the decisions that ranchers around the world have to make on a regular basis, and Sam was just that right fit. Then with Debra—

MASTERSON: She had actually heard about the show, and wanted to come out of retirement because she’s basically just been chilling in New York and raising her kids. She called her agent and was like, “All right, find me a job,” and they told her about it, and she’s like, “That sounds great! I’ve known Sam forever.” So she approached us as we were casting lots of other ladies. And when we all looked at each other, saying ‘Holy s—, we can get Debra Winger back from semi-retirement,” it was the move we had to make.

On a scale 1 to 70, how likely is it that someone from that ‘70s Show will pop up?

MASTERSON: I’m going to say 71.

KUTCHER: We built this show to work with people we like.

MASTERSON: We’ve hired one ‘70s cast member for a recurring role. As for the series regulars, well, we got 20 shows this season to get some of them in here. 

Who’s that person?

MASTERSON: He’s a great actor, he’s done lots of shows, and he was on That ’70s Show a ton, and I don’t think we’re allowed to name names at this point or we’ll get in trouble.

Given that the Netflix model promotes binge viewing, how should people watch The Ranch? How is it best enjoyed? 

MASTERSON: Grab a glass of whiskey or six-pack of beer, grab your gal, loosen your belt, sit back a little bit, and get ready to laugh. 

KUTCHER: I would highly recommend a beer, a steak, and unbuckling that buckle. Then just start appreciating your life, and that yours is not as f—ed up as these guys’.

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