Amid all the Netflix abundance, what’s a tepid TV-watcher to do? Netflix has a nasty habit, especially now, in the year 2019, of dropping a lot of TV shows and movies at once. The majority of them are red herrings, luring you away from the content you should be watching. With newbies arriving every day and Netflix's relentless algorithm — which places things like Polar on my lap, when, really, I had no desire to watch it — finding the content diamonds in the rough can be difficult. I.e., allow me to introduce Free Rein.
Free Rein, the 2017 Netflix Original that slipped under the radar, follows group of horse girls living on an isle in the United Kingdom. Cheerful and fast-moving, the show is Netflix's best approximation of Disney Channel's teen TV. The plots are ever-so-slightly moralistic, the smiles are wide, and the young actors are brimming over with new-to-Hollywood charisma. Moreover, there are horses, horse thieves, ghost horses, wild horses, and one particularly grumpy horse named "Bob." Free Rein is Netflix's show about teen horse girls, and it's a certifiable hidden gem.
Free Rein just released its first Valentine’s Day special on February 1, a rollicking adventure with camping, a ghost horse (it's recurring), and some mild teenage love. The show also debuted a Christmas special back in December titled Free Rein: The 12 Neighs of Christmas. Both specials don't require previous viewing of the show's 20 episodes, but why would you want to miss the meat and potatoes of this show? There are 20 30-minute episodes to talk about, so, buckle up (saddle up?): We're going to talk about Free Rein.
Remember: This is about escaping the algorithm, reaching beyond the shiny things Netflix puts on your homepage. Release your inhibitions! Feel the Rein on your skin!
So, what's the premise of Free Rein?
Free Rein follows Los Angeles native Zoe (Jaylen Barron) as she and her family escape to an isle of the English coast, where Zoe's mother, Maggie (Natalie Gumede), grew up. (The series is filmed in Whitchurch.) The family is going through some turmoil — Maggie and Zoe's father, Huck (Ryan Sands) are having troubles — and Maggie needed to escape. There are also apparently other complications in LA. Zoe has possessive friends and "drama" in her past and an idyllic summer in the countryside is the right prescription.
Enter: Raven, a literal dark horse. Raven is wild and probably also looking for some drama-free months. He makes an immediate connection with Zoe, though, and the show's plot is set! Zoe, an American, is suddenly the star of the nearby Bright Field Stables, which has a tightly-held, Mean Girls-esque hierarchy.
Besides Zoe, who am I going to care about in this show?
Everyone! Free Rein has a huge heart and it won't let you get angry at a single character. Mean girl Mia (Céline Buckens) has family trauma haunting her every move. Mia's henchmen Susie (Carla Woodcock) is only ever terrible because she's fiercely loyal to her friend. Moody horse boy — Zoe actually calls him that — Pin (Freddy Carter) has bigger, horse-sized secrets that make him such a sadboi. And grumbly, stay-away-from-newcomers Ted (Milo Twomey) may just have a history with Zoe's mom.
The grouchy semi-villains aside, the main cast is really Zoe, Becky (Kerry Ingram, whom you may recognize as the greyscale-ridden Shireen from Game of Thrones), and Jade (Manpreet Bambra). Zoe's little sister Rosie (the scene-stealing Navia Ziraili Robinson) provides a wealth of plot, too, as she tries to Parent Trap her mother and father.
What about the horses?
So glad you asked! Aside from Raven, who is a glossy, special boy, the horses include: Firefly, Sparkles, Monty, Elvis, Major, and Bob, the ever-so-slightly grouchy pony. Bob is important because he belongs to Becky, occasionally bringing in money via $1 pony rides.
Meet the actors who play the horses, below.
Okay. But why should I watch it?
Free Rein is a Zoey 101-style show, a school-based comedy that happens to take place at a stable. Yes, there are horses — which, for someone who always wanted to be a horse girl, is a benefit — but the show is mostly about the miniature ups and downs of adolescence. Which, of course, to young bodies, feel like earthquakes. When the show starts, Zoe is in the middle of a transformative period, moving across the world for what looks like her mom's first midlife crisis. Not to mention, she's almost immediately faced with a love triangle: To fall in love with Pin, moody horseboi, or to fall in love with Marcus (Bruce Herbelin-Earle), perfectly pintuckedboi? The other characters are facing their own social shake-ups, as lead girl Mia faces off against new girl Zoe. Think of Free Rein as horse girl Elite, another Netflix hidden gem, or Legally Blonde, for a younger, more carefree set.
Teen TV is in a sort-of limbo right now, as teens increasingly have access to Netflix and other streaming platforms instead of just cable TV shows (no shade Riverdale). They aren't necessarily tied to "teen" TV anymore, which means that the shows for and about teens have free rein (!) to be whatever they want. Free Rein is gracefully, effortlessly itself, not unlike its main character Zoe, who, oddly enough, is an extremely well-adjusted 15-year-old.
What about this new Valentine's Day special?
Well, for starters, the special is tagged for "gal pals" on Netflix. The special also might as well be tagged "Game of Thrones lite," as it follows the pony girls' search for the "Maid's Stone," a mythological gem. There's also some lite Valentines-ing, as (no spoilers!) certain someones try to navigate their first V-day with certain someone elses.
Okay. I'll watch. But before I get too invested, is there another season coming?
Sure thing! Season 3 just wrapped production. Let the stanning commence.