|Yellowstone, with the original cast.|
I'd seen the trailers, and Costner generally manages to be likeable and interesting in just about anything he does, even if it sucks, so I figured I'd give this one a look.
He is, and this does.
This is better TV than 99% of what's out there now.
How low that bar is cannot be measured with existing instrumentation.
I'd seen teasers for this last year, mainly in movie theaters (because no one who can help it watches TV anyways, apparently). So when it appeared in the store as a complete season, I figured it was worth checking out as a binge-watch, commercial free, because what's come out as movies lately has been every bit of dung-heap stinky for most of 2018 and 2019.
So, you get to see Kevin Costner as a cowboy (which, after Silverado and Open Range isn't a bad thing). And you think you're going to be getting an anti-PC take from a character who the whole world is coming after, in a turn worthy, or at least vaguely reminiscent, of John Wayne, back from the dead, however dimly.
Instead you get something you've undoubtedly seen before.
Allow me to explain.
Long about Episode 3 of the first season, you realize what you're watching.
It's not the saga of the patriarch of the Dutton clan bravely holding on to a piece of Montana "as big as Rhode Island".
What you're actually watching is Don Vito Corleone thuggishly protecting the Family business, in this case the Yellowstone Ranch, right next to the national park of the same name.
Except, no surprise, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Talia Shire did the whole thing so much better, with Francis Ford Coppola telling the story.
Don Vito starts out the wronged man, beset by the Tartaglias, who want to build a condo development in Corleone territory. Connie is out of control and alcoholic. Then the Solazzo mob rustles his cattle. Sonny gets whacked stealing them back, and war hero Michael avenges that, but it costs him the life and relationships he was cultivating outside the family business. Connie is out of control and evil, and Tom Hagen saves Sonny, only to become Fredo, because he's not a war-time consiglieri, leaving Don Vito with only Connie and Michael to stand with him against the cops, TPTB, and the rest of the Five Families.
That's all of season one in a paragraph.
Like I said, you've seen this before.
Except the original cast was far more compelling, much better actors, and the story was more interesting before they all put on cowboy hats. And it's beyond tough for Costner, surrounded by a cast of basically nobodies, to carry this whole thing by himself, try mightily though he does.
It's well-shot, and the scenery is nice for not being NYFC or anywhere within the Thirty Mile Zone centered at Beverly and Vine, with intermountain Utah doubling for Montana. (I leave it for actual Montanans to tell me how well they do with making Utah pull off Big Sky country. My guess is it's okay, but not quite the real deal.)
And they keep pulling off a few human interest moments to misdirect you into not noticing that Costner's character is just a criminal p.o.s. with a better legacy and better real estate location.
I'm telling you this to save you time, and possibly money.
I've worked on countless TV shows where the plot was a 42-minute version of Any Great Movie You've Ever Seen, and they always turn out exactly like you'd expect of lobster and champagne, time compressed, and shot on a beer and Cheese Whiz budget.
This is a teensy bit better than that in the looks department, but the drama suffers, and the plot literally comprises every point I outlined above, and that's 10 hours of TV, which means 10 weeks of production minimum, to get something Coppola did better in 6 hours over two movies.
The only reason I can figure for Hollywierd doing this series this way is to undermine decades of the Ponderosa, the Barclay Ranch, the High Chaparral, the Wilder farm, Paladin, Matt Dillon, Bret Maverick, and everything you might remember of that and countless other beloved Western shows, to the point that by the fourth or fifth season of this crap, you'll be rooting for the Indians and the EPA when they both swoop in and peck this miserable criminal enterprise to death, pick the carcass clean, and crap it out.
This is lazy storytelling rebranded and camouflaged, and mediocre TV at its most mediocre, and the only hero in this whole sad tale will be anyone with the sense to switch channels or turn the damned box off. Having done that a decade and more ago, experiences like this confirm the perpetual wisdom of that decision.
Unless the whole thing goes belly up before they can pull that off.
Which, judging by Season One, should probably happen about 3/4ths of the way into Season Two, if there's any Nielsen box office justice involved.
Never have I seen a show that more richly lives up to The Biz standard T-shirt punchline:
Theater is life.
Film is art.
Television is furniture.
More's the pity. They could have made a modern classic Western show.
Instead, they're just filling bags of rose fertilizer, straight from the steer's southern end.
Tip: If you want to see Costner in something far, far better, watch Tin Cup.
And then Draft Day.