Some TV shows are so popular, they can support their own spinoff travel docu-series. Outlander, the Starz adaptation of Diana Galdadon’s bestselling time travel romance books, is one such TV show. And Men in Kilts, a Scottish roadtrip series featuring Outlander actors Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Graham McTavish (Dougal MacKenzie), is such a spinoff docu-series.
Men in Kilts probably didn’t need a hook past “two of the actors from one of the most popular shows on TV goof off around their home country together,” but the pandemic has given it one. What would have been a perfectly enjoyable travel series featuring the rich culture and gorgeous landscape of a popular tourist destination has become even more of an escapist delight in the midst of a pandemic that has kept most people from not only traveling internationally but also from traveling to their favorite local restaurant.
In 2020, Netflix saw major increases in viewership around documentaries, reality TV, and stories that take place outside of the United States. Men in Kilts ticks all three boxes. Most of us may not be able to venture to Scotland, but we can watch Sam Heughan try to lift a heavy rock as part of a Men in Kilts installment dedicated to the sports of Scotland. We may not be able to dine at a fancy restaurant for Valentine’s Day, but it’s safe to watch Graham McTavish feast on scallops in the shell as part of the series’ tribute to Scottish seafood.
As you can probably tell, each installment of the 8-episode first season of Men in Kilts is centered around a theme. The first two episodes, made available to press, explore “Food & Drink” and “Scottish Sport,” respectively, but the series trailer also teases excursions that explore Scottish music, dance, and shepherding. Scuttlebutt is the episode that airs on March 7th centers on superstition and witchcraft, and features a “death historian.”
Tonally, the show has a similar vibe to Top Gear; it relies on thinly-veiled set-ups, such as when the actors are “left behind” to finish up working in the peat bogs of the Laphroaig distillery. It’s highly-produced, leaving less room for these best friends to engage more earnestly with these sites of exploration, but the two actors are charming enough that they mostly get away with it.
Given that Outlander Season 6 has only just began filming, the current “Droughtlander,” aka the term for the seemingly interminable hiatuses between new seasons, is yet to get a definitive end date. Men in Kilts is not new Outlander content and Heughan and McTavish are not their Outlander characters, even though the editing may sometimes try to convince us the line between Men in Kilts and Outlander is thinner than it is. At one point, McTavish actually says aloud to Heughan: “You’ve just got to stop this confusion between fiction and real life.”
Men in Kilts is best when it isn’t trying to be something it’s not in the moments when it’s just two dude-friends and former co-workers who have know each other for years going on the kind of adventure they probably rarely if ever get to embark on during production season. As Heughan describes it to TV Insider: “It’s a passion project with one of my best friends. We explore Scotland — its heritage, culture, food, drink, music, dance. And also I subject [McTavish] to lots of activities he doesn’t want to do.” Like I said, Men in Kilts is here to save Droughtlander.
Men in Kilts premieres this Sunday, February 14th on Starz and the Starz app.