If you’re like me, bingeing a show devolves into Googling the actors, segues into deep-diving on their life stories, and culminates in a fine-toothed comb analysis of their Instagrams. What you’re searching for is confirmation that the actors are friends in real life—you want to believe that the chemistry was real.
There’s something satisfying about a close knit cast that changes the experience of watching a show and being a fan; imagining them as friends off camera makes viewing them on camera even more fun. If it appears they were just coworkers, outsized disappointment ensues. Like finding out Carrie and Samantha (erm, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall) don’t get along in real life.
Every now and then, though, the investigation yields exactly what you’re looking for: a cast that seems as bonded off screen as they are on. My current favorite iteration of this phenomenon is the Netflix teen drama/mystery series Outer Banks.
Outer Banks premiered in April 2020 at exactly the right moment. We were one month into lockdown, generally terrified about the state of the world, and in desperate need of new escapist content. It turns out that a campy, teen treasure hunt built on impossible plot lines and soap opera good looks was the perfect antidote. Outer Banks was Netflix’s sixth most popular show in all of 2020.
The series, whose third season premieres on Feb. 23, takes place on the barrier islands off North Carolina, in a golden-hued world of boats and backwaters. The story balances a search for literal gold with a rivalry between the island’s haves (the Kooks) and have-nots (the Pogues). The Pogues—comprised of John B (Chase Stokes), Kiara (Madison Bailey), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), JJ (Rudy Pankow), and honorary member Sarah (Madelyn Cline)—are the heart of the show. In order to find the fun in Outer Banks it’s imperative that you like hanging out with this crew.
After watching my first episode I went on the usual internet hunt to learn what I could about those five—were they, as the show portrays them to be, enviably close? For once, the answer was yes. The evidence made me want to watch Outer Banks even more.
The chosen expression of these Outer Banks on screen and off screen friendships was, and continues to be, photo dumps—aka the no-makeup selfies of Instagram. The best dumps give the un-edited feeling of looking through someone’s photo library: blurry feet, half-eaten food, random doodles, corners of partially identifiable faces, and videos of friends goofing off, with anything glamorous or pretty seemingly absent-mindedly tossed in.
Poppy shows with young casts that are not of the sci-fi variety (but rather take place in a world in which I could vaguely imagine existing) are exactly the type of series from which I want to see one of these photo unloads. The human characters + romantic plot lines + young-people-fun formula always make a fan out of me. Fan Me always wants more content, and more content inevitably leads me to Instagram. Shows like The Summer I Turned Pretty and Emily in Paris are two other prime examples that sent me on the quest, but I saw instantly that the Outer Banks stars’ dumps are far and away the best.
There was Madelyn Cline posting videos of her co-stars in swimming pools, on car rides, and on set.
There was Rudy Pankow doing the same:
And Madison Bailey:
And Jonathan Daviss:
All of their photo carousels walked the requisite dump tightrope of random, entertaining, and a little bit enviable; that the photos were often from the time when the cast was shooting the show itself made them even better. They were friends—or, equally important, at least seemed like they were—and I was thrilled.
Adding to the fan excitement is that on-screen love interests—Cline and Stokes—were for a while dating IRL, and the dumps were about as bingeable to me as the show itself. Scrolling through them felt authentic, like I had access to real experiences and friendships like the ones I peruse from my own life on Instagram—even if all I actually had was a curated collection on someone’s public social media account.
As an elder millennial, I remember getting DVD box sets of shows like Friends and Dawson’s Creek and immediately clicking to the behind-the-scenes sections filled with bloopers and extras. Watching them gave that coveted feeling of being behind the curtain, like I too was somehow a part of their crew. When actors and celebrities use social media most effectively, their posts pull off that same trick. When an entire cast uses their social media to this effect, it becomes an unstoppable force of marketing, with the low-fi timbre of a fan-made tribute.
The Outer Banks cast’s posts (which they often call “tomfoolery”) occur in a mishmash of red carpet landscapes, random locations, and set backdrops that are recognizable to the show’s viewers. Intimacy. Access.
There’s Pankow climbing up a rope in a church that fans will recognize from Season 2.
There’s the cast on the tree outside John B’s house.
There’s the container ship from which they narrowly escaped.
As Outer Banks has gotten older, the plots more outrageous, the show’s look slicker, and the stars bigger—Cline was recently in Glass Onion—the dumps haven’t stopped. To promote the Season 3 premiere, Stokes posted the season’s poster along with a video of Pankow getting hit in the head with a bottle. I loved it.
Cline recently graced her timeline with two dumps so obscure that it’s not clear which, if any, of the pictures of car rides and caviar are from her Outer Banks life, but maybe that’s the point. They’ve all used these content pushes to effectively market the show. Now, the ultimate dump pivot will be to use them to effectively market themselves. We’ve seen behind the curtain. We’re in on the tomfoolery. We like these people enough to follow them out of the Outer Banks, right?
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