Netflix’s “The Outer Banks” vs the Real Outer Banks
Someone once wrote that to truly enjoy fiction there must be a willing suspension of disbelief. Since there are varying degrees of fiction, it stands to reason there must be varying degrees of disbelief.
After watching season one of the Netflix original drama Outer Banks, for a resident of the Outer Banks, it’s going to take a lot of suspension of disbelief.
That’s not a comment on the acting, plot, photography, or direction. It’s a fun story to follow for anyone looking for a bit of diversion.
But one thing it is not, is the real Outer Banks.
There is so much that is not the real Outer Banks that it’s going to take some organization to explain it all. We’ll start with the most apparent.
THE BRIDGES OF THE OUTER BANKS
The opening scene sets the stage for how little the Netflix drama The Outer Banks resembles the real Outer Banks.
As John B narrates, the camera pans to an aerial shot of his VW Minibus driving across a bridge as he arrives on the Outer Banks.
There is so much wrong with this opening scene that it’s difficult to even know where to begin.
The bridge is clearly spanning an inlet. Low to the water, and relatively short, no bridge like that exists on the Outer Banks.
There are three bridges connecting the Outer Banks to the mainland. The bridges cross either the Albemarle Sound or the Croatan Sound. There is no other way to drive to here.
Most of the traffic reaches the Outer Banks via the 2.8 mile Wright Memorial Bridge that crosses the Albemarle Sound. The old William Umstead Bridge that crosses the Croatan Sound on the north end of Roanoke Island is 2.7 miles long. The longest bridge in North Carolina is the newer 5.2 mile Virginia Dare Bridge connecting Manns Harbor with Roanoke Island, also crossing the Croatan Sound.
A minor point, perhaps, but one we couldn’t help noticing—all of the Outer Banks bridges have a navigation hump in them. We didn’t see one as John B made his way across his bridge.
We also noticed that John B’s VW van was headed north as he entered the Outer Banks. That’s a problem.
There are no bridges connecting the southern part of the Outer Banks to the mainland.
The only bridge on the Outer Banks that crosses an inlet is the Marc Basnight Bridge spanning Oregon Inlet. The bridge is 2.8 miles long and has six navigation spans that are 90’ high.
That bridge connects the northern Outer Banks with Hatteras Island, which brings us to our next point.
ONE ISLAND, TWO TRIBES
“One island, two tribes,” John B says.
Oh is this wrong.
The Outer Banks is not one island. The northern Outer Banks is a continuous spit of land extending south from Virginia Beach to Oregon Inlet.
Hatteras Island begins at Oregon Inlet, ending 45 miles later at Hatteras Village. The southernmost point of the Outer Banks is Ocracoke Village on Ocracoke Island. The only way to get there is by ferry. There are no bridges connecting Ocracoke to anything.
The Outer Banks is definitely not one island.
The “two tribes” actually kind of rankles. There’s no such thing as “pogues”—the poor folk—or “kooks”—the rich and well-heeled.
Are there people on the Outer Banks who are well off, perhaps even rich by some standards? Of course, there are. Are there families that struggle financially? There are almost 40,000 permanent residents from Carova on the Virginia border to Ocracoke. Of course, there are people who struggle financially.
But one thing we don’t have is the class divide…almost battle lines, that is so much a part of the plot of Outer Banks.
And here’s why—the business owners, when summer comes, are working shoulder to shoulder with their employees making sure our visitors are getting the service they deserve. No one has time to worry about class distinctions.
THE HOMES, THE SETTING
One of the problems with the way the Outer Banks looks is that the producers made the decision to not film the show on the Outer Banks. The decision was made because in 2016 the State Legislature passed what is called the Bathroom Bill. The film industry in general decided after the bill was passed to not film in North Carolina.
For some reason, the producers decided that Charleston, South Carolina, with its beautiful antebellum mansions would most closely resemble the Outer Banks.
It doesn’t, mostly because there are no antebellum mansions on the Outer Banks.
As far as we can tell, the oldest homes are on Ocracoke and date from the 1840s or 1850s. The Rasmus Midgett house in Waves is dated 1855. All of them, though, are simple wood frame homes. Functional but not fancy.
One thing the show’s producer’s got right is that gigantic live oak in John B’s front yard. That species of tree thrives in the maritime climate of the Outer Banks, especially on the soundside, which John B mentions is where his home is located.
One of the problems with filming in South Carolina, though, is all those palm trees. They’re sabal or cabbage palms—the state tree of South Carolina.
The tree doesn’t grow on the Outer Banks.
“Cabbage Palmetto extends into North Carolina only at the southeastern tip, in Brunswick County,” the North Carolina Native Plant Society notes. That’s about 100 miles south of Ocracoke.
SURFING IN A HURRICANE
There are some very good surfers on the Outer Banks. Some of them are pretty crazy, too.
They’ll ride waves as a hurricane approaches—actually a great time to catch some impressive action. They’ll surf after the hurricane leaves—doable but not a good as the approach. They’ll put on a dry suit and surf 12’ waves in a March nor’easter.
But we’ve never found anyone crazy enough to go surfing during a hurricane.
First of all, there are the 80 mph sustained winds with gusts to 110-115. And that’s a Category 1 storm. Just standing in a sustained 80 mph wind is a challenge. Riding a board and standing? That’s hard to imagine.
During a hurricane, the waves closest to shore are so choppy and unpredictable that they’re not rideable. Somehow the surfer has to get out to the 15’ waves that are breaking 150 to 200 yards beyond the shoreline…provided there is even a shoreline left. A few hours of 15’ waves tend to push the seas over the beach and across the Beach Road.
Paddling out in those conditions is not physically possible. A jet ski tow is going to be needed. So to go surfing during a hurricane it’s going to take someone who has gone beyond crazy all the way to certifiably insane. And they’re going to need an accomplice who shares their affliction.
TAKING THE FERRY TO CHAPEL HILL
Of all the gaffes, miscues, and obvious errors in Outer Banks, this is the one that got the most attention.
Anyone who has ever visited the Outer Banks probably already knows the answer to this. For anyone who has not had the good fortune to spend a few days with us, a quick lesson in geography.
Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, is a landlocked city with no navigable rivers, streams or canals. Short of loading a ferry onto a carrier and towing it, there is no way a ferry is going to travel from the Outer Banks to the city.
According to the show’s producers, a scene was cut that would have had John B and Sarah Cameron taking the ferry to the mainland and then taking a ride-sharing service the rest of the way.
They don’t get a pass on this one.
The only ferry that would have made sense for kids to take would be the Ocracoke to Swan Quarter ferry. The ferry crosses Pamlico Sound.
Here’s a smattering of what’s wrong with the whole sequence.
It’s 188 miles from Swan Quarter to Chapel Hill. That’s a 376-mile round trip. It kind of stretches the suspension disbelief to picture Lyft or Uber providing a ride.
The ferry crossing itself takes two hours and forty minutes.
That would mean that the time involved just getting there is about five-and-a-half to six hours or an 11 to 12 hour round trip.
In the story John and Sarah did the whole trip in one day, a trip that included buying John a new wardrobe as well as going to the archives to research the documents about Sarah’s Tahnneyhill Plantation and the wreck of the Royal Merchant. And for good measure, they left in daylight and got home before the sunset.
To be clear, the scenes between John and Sarah when they are in Chapel Hill are wonderful. Without giving anything away, John B—the pogue—begins to see Sarah—the kook—as her own person and not a two-dimensional rendering of who or what he thought she was. But good acting and snappy dialogue can’t cover for a flaw in the plot this big.