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STARZ "Outlander" combines genres in a satisfying mash-up

Caitriona Balfe starts in STARZ "Outlander."
Caitriona Balfe starts in STARZ "Outlander."

Starz newest original series, Outlander,” is adapted from author Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling series that has sold more than 25 million copies.

In a savvy media move, STARZ has made the pilot of the 16 episode series available free via various outlets prior to its debut this Saturday night on the network.

As of this morning, the episode has been watched by newly one million viewers, suggesting that the series is off to a promising start ahead of its broadcast premiere.

“Outlander” follows a married WWII combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) who is mysteriously transported from 1945 back to 18th century Scotland where she finds herself held prisoner by a group of Highlanders and some element of the space/time continuum that refuses to allow her to return to her modern day life.

Torn between Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish who’s protection keeps her safe in her new, uncertain world, and Frank (Tobias Menzies), the husband she’s been mysteriously pulled away from and desperately seeks to be reunited with, Claire realizes right away that navigating her ambiguous future – or is it her past? – will be an extremely complicated endeavor.

Combining unlikely genres such as romance, science fiction, history, adventure and even a hint of medical procedural into the series seems a bit ambitious, but it all works here and while the believability factor may be stretched for some, it certainly isn’t broken.

Credit for much of this goes Gabaldon, who has written a heroine who is not shy, senseless or annoyingly misguided in her actions in any way.

Taking the words on the page and making them work on the screen is Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore who brings his significant knowledge of the sci-fi genus to the project having worked on such successful fare as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” Roswell” and “Battlestar Galactica.” He also clearly understands the period piece as evidenced by his efforts on the HBO drama “Carnivale.” Moore’s understanding that story, above all else, is the most important factor in a series is clearly evident as each episode unfolds. In fact, the time travel aspect seems to blend into the background a bit as the real catalyst for plot advancement is Claire herself and her actions in the face of each immediate predicament, rather than her overall situation.

The sweeping landscape of Scotland certainly doesn’t hurt the series either, giving it an authentic feel that seemingly couldn’t be achieved were the show shot elsewhere.

At its most basic level, “Outlander” is the tale of a strong woman on an unconventional journey, faced with a range of complications that require her to make decisions that will have consequences, both good and bad. While this is more than enough to sustain this series, the addition of the avant-garde elements of time-travel and period drama elevate it to another level.

The STARZ network is to be commended for adding such ambitious project to their programming slate and for making it accessible to all viewers for sampling. It seems only fitting to use a new marketing method to promote this new multi-hyphenate genre series.

For more information about “Outlander” and to view the pilot, please visit the STARZ site here.

"Outlander" premieres on STARZ Saturday, August 9th at 9pm et/pt.

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