Saturday, May 25, 2019

TV Review: Yellowstone

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.

The Good
This is better TV than 99% of what's out there now.

The Bad
How low that bar is cannot be measured with existing instrumentation.

The Ugly
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.


Beans said...

Thanks. I tried to like it. And of all the characters, Costner's is the most likeable, followed by the war-hero son.


If I wanted to watch people killing and backstabbing and having wanton sex, I'd have watched "Game of Thrones."

Good review. Heh. Godfather on the Range.

Aesop said...

But that's exactly what it is, right?

It's cookie-cutter formulaic. I was pissed it took me three episodes to spot it.

Anonymous said...

Channel surfing and saw Costner stopped for a moment then thought that Costner must be hurting for money and surfed on. Another night surfing and saw Costner again thought it was the same thing that I had seen before, repeat, but turned out that it was a different episode wasn't any better and surfed on. Never saw it again.

Beans said...

I was intrigued for a while, by trying to figure out how the story line with the hero-son was going to mesh with the rest of the family. And, yes, Godfather with chaps. At least it wasn't a SanFran version of Godfather with chaps, blech.

But the daughter? She was a turnoff from the beginning. Having dealt with loathsome power-hungry women like that who see no problem destroying everything around them because their heart was empty.

I liked Costner's character, and his portrayal.

But... after 3 episodes, yeah, no.

That's my wife's and my rule of viewing. 1st Episode - if we immediately don't hate it, give it 3 total episodes and then decide to watch/not watch. Saved us lots of being stuck with poor shows.

LL said...

I tried to get through the first season because I wanted to have something on TV worth watching. I admit that I didn't see The Godfather on the Range until you pointed it out. But after three or four episodes, I stopped watching. I saw advertisements for Season Two but didn't plan on watching. Will Costner be shot full of holes, yet survive? I don't care. And that's the problem, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

They could have called it "The Sodfather"

Anonymous said...

I watched it, thinking it might be interesting (stated without calibrating), found it to be so, to a point.

Gorgeously shot, and that's likely the best of it.

Everything about the plot and character development follows the formula of deconstructing - in the case, the American West - while mixing in enough sordid behavior to satisfy the culturally illiterate. I'm a mildly surprised Costner is working hand-in-glove with such an uglification of human nature. Who the hell brands their own son? I daresay it confirms every sjbully notion of how dysfunctional American families, and in this case, how dishonest the origins of the founding of the West are.


Anonymous said...

I made it 45 minutes into the first episode before I felt like I had to go take a shower. My BIL just loves it. I'm sure he has not made the connection RE: Godfather On The Range.

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Haven't watched it probably won't. Aesop you left off highwaymen. Will be visiting the Texas Ranger museum Wednesday in Waco as I will be traveling south by myself this time. I hear its pretty cool.

lineman said...

Some of it shot just down the road from where I'm at...

Aesop said...

Not surprised. The only thing that looks like MT.

OutbackMike said...

I watched the season, and liked it okay. The best part was the opening theme song.

When I saw that Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Sicario, created this series, I got excited. Sicario was better.

Yeah, Godfather on the Range. That about covers it.

lineman said...

Yea pissed my builder right off when he had to take a 2hr detour when they had the road blocked out to my place...I looked at the ranch when it was for sale that they did a lot of the scenes on...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review/warning, brother. Guess I'll stick with the rerun of "The Wind and the Lion" I was planning on.I
Too bad, I liked "Open Range" a lot.
Boat Guy