By Peter Hummers on April 24, 2020
For a remote group of barrier islands, the Outer Banks are not as obscure as we might sometimes like.
In the 1983 movie Brainstorm, Christopher Walken’s character is on the run and makes a phone call from the Wright Brothers monument in Kill Devil Hills. In an episode of Wiseguy (1987), an offscreen character is said to be “on vacation in Nags Head.” Outer Banks local Andy Griffith shot a double 1989 episode of Matlock in Dare County. The Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode “Scared Crazy” (2005) featured an antagonist with a background in a secret military group “on the Outer Banks” (Hatteras Island).
In John Grisham’s novel “The Pelican Brief” an assassin comes ashore to find a truck with North Carolina plates and drives inland towards D.C., going “across the bridge to Manteo.” The comedy (to OBX locals) Nights in Rodanthe (2008) is set here. In the Breaking Bad episode “Four Days Out” we see an Outer Banks travel poster in Albuquerque. And of course, there is the 2019 film, Peanut Butter Falcon, written and directed by OBX native Tyler Nilson, that is a big-screen homage to the area.
Outer Banks local Andy Griffith filmed a double episode of Matlock here in 1989. In “The Hunting Party,” a character approaches the actual Outer Banks–our Outer Banks–in a four-seat Cessna and looks down on Dare County, before landing at MQI–Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo. Met at the airport by a local caretaker who is to drive him to the house in which he’s staying, he asks, “Can you show me where my brother was killed?”
The stranger runs afoul of a shady group of regular tourists, and a murder ensues, which implicates him. Next we see Ben Matlock in court in Atlanta, then answering a phone. He asks his assistant, “Have you ever heard of a town called Manteo, on Roanoke Island, in North Carolina?”
Ben is then seen getting shakily out of the Cessna at the Manteo airport, where he (spoiler!) wins the day! It’s a very good, double episode, but this time, locals found more to delight in than the national audience did. Filmed entirely on location, scenes take place in the Green Dolphin Pub and the Elizabethan Gardens.
When Ben arrives at the old courthouse in Manteo (where the trial sequences were filmed), Della Basnight, surrounded by Andy Griffith’s friends and actual Manteo locals, asks, “Are you him? The famous lawyer from Atlanta? Is that the suit?” referring to Matlock’s traditional seersucker suit. When Matlock goes into the courthouse, Della turns to the crowd. “What d’ya think?”
Apart from being a fine episode, “The Hunting Party” was a gift from Andy to his friends and neighbors on the Outer Banks. During the episode a deputy (Clarence Gilyard Jr., who joined the permanent cast at this point) takes Matlock on a tour of the community, pointing out Kellogg’s Supply, the Elizabethan Inn, and The Lost Colony stage. I think one interior was shot in Andy’s own home, where “Ben Matlock” remarks on how nice the house is!
After the completion of the case, Della Basnight introduces her friends to Matlock, one by one (and I’m sure the national audience was wondering what was going on): “I’m Della Basnight. This is Jimmy. Jimmy’s a Basnight. And Bobby. Bobby’s an Owens, but he married a Basnight. This is John Wilson–he’s a cousin, but hell, on the Island everyone’s a cousin! And this is Mama!” Cora Mae Basnight puts a hand on Matlock’s chest and says, “Smile!”
OUTER BANKS (Netflix) 2020 [TVMA]
This review was previously posted on the Outer Banks Voice
Netflix has released the new teen-drama series Outer Banks, which I admit to approaching with some skepticism.
Not a few Bankers felt burned by the strange geography and weird characters in Nights in Rodanthe, but were soothed somewhat by the resulting publicity — and those of our number who became extras in the film. The good news is that I needn’t have worried.
Outer Banks is a suspenseful, complicated yarn that hits the right marks. A group of local teenagers finds a sunken Grady-White boat in the marsh, and after a quick dive, bring a motel-room key out of it.
The motel is in repair following a hurricane, so two of the kids enter the room surreptitiously and find a big ol’ bag of money and a SIG Sauer pistol. They pocket a few packs of cash and the handgun, when they’re interrupted and almost caught by a pair of deputies who come in to search the room.
Meanwhile a local dock rat washes up dead, someone who, the kids know, couldn’t afford even a surfboard, and the police tie him to the missing boat. Sinister outsiders are also looking for the boat, and only the kids know where it actually is.
The general look of the setting is about right, and the writers have done their homework: There’s a hurricane, tourist mega houses, sunken treasure, smuggling and piracy. The county is called Kildare County. One of the kids, feeling pressured by the situation, says, “I’m livin’ the nightmare!” But there’s also an invented caste system for the kids that serves the plot: working-class locals, “tourons” and a largely fictional community of rich teenagers in their families’ second homes.
For us Bankers, it’s good to remember that in addition to being our home, the Outer Banks is also an idea, one that is gaining purchase across the country. Outer Banks is set there. (It was shot in Charleston, SC.) The lighthouses are wrong, the deputies’ badges read “Kildare County,” and there are palm trees.
But when we moved past the distractions of location errors in Nights in Rodanthe (which only we noticed), it became a tolerable Hollywood movie. Outer Banks is better than that. Here’s the trailer.