Walk into any bookstore (yes, they still exist), and you’ll quickly realize supernatural romance is one of today’s hottest genres. If you want to fantasize about humans having sex with vampires, werewolves, angels, fairies, demons, Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) or dinosaurs (no, I’m not shitting you), then there are literally dozens of series to fit your fetish. One of the biggest subcategories in this exploding trend is highlander romance. That typically consists of a modern woman traveling back in time to have lots of sweaty sex with beefy, kilt-wearing Scotsmen. A quick search of Barnes & Noble’s website turns up 3,357 books in the “highlander romance” category. I’m totally serious.
Among those 3,357 titles sits author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (eight novels, several short stories and about nine spin-off novellas). Despite the fact that they are hugely popular, the books wouldn’t seem like the best source material for a high-end cable TV series. And yet, they are the source material for Starz’ lusty, historical, sci-fi/supernatural romance series “Outlander.”
The show is produced by Ronald D. Moore (whose previous work on Syfy’s “Battlestar Galactica” brings a sturdy pedigree). Caitriona Balfe (Now You See Me, Super 8) stars as Claire Randall, a rough-and-ready combat nurse in World War II. When the war ends, Claire returns home to England and the arms of her loving but estranged husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies from “Game of Thrones” and “Rome”). The two have seen little of each other over the past few years. But Frank is nothing if not patient, tender and romantic.
“Outlander” is in no rush to introduce its time-travel premise. For most of the pilot episode, viewers will be forgiven for thinking they’re watching a lost episode of “Downton Abbey” (albeit one with occasional boobs). Claire and Frank try to reconnect, emotionally and physically, while on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. The couple ends up in a tiny Scottish village on Halloween night. (Dun, dun, dun.) Naturally, they stumble across a group of local wiccans performing a moonlight ceremony at an ancient circle of stones. The next morning, Claire wanders into the circle, touches one of the stones and is inexplicably transported back to 1743.
There she runs into Black Jack Randall, the spitting-image ancestor of her beloved husband. Unfortunately, the redcoat-wearing Black Jack (also played by Menzies) is a sadistic jerk who calls Claire a “whore” and immediately tries to rape her. (I won’t even try to analyze the new wave feminist fantasy of running into your husband’s identical but naughtier clone.) Thankfully our heroine is rescued by British-hating members of the Clan MacKenzie. Taken captive, she uses her medical expertise on wounded hunk Jamie Fraser (the expertly unshaven Sam Heughan).
That “Outlander” is pure, unadulterated girlie porn is undeniable. Our heroine is strong, intelligent and sophisticated. In addition to being a medic, she’s also an archaeologist and a botanical expert. On top of that, she gets to bone her sensitive husband, his evil twin and a musclebound Scottish warrior. And yet, for all its clichés, “Outlander” is a classy, patient and remarkably well-assembled affair. Damned if this isn’t the sort of thoughtful fantasy that will appeal to people who would never dream of picking up a book labeled “highlander romance.”