June 21, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Yellowstone”


YELLOWSTONE:  Wednesday 10PM on Paramount

YELLOWSTONE is the newly-branded Paramount Network’s first big flex, the kind of show that stages an entire cattle auction sequence just so Kevin Costner’s character John Dutton can walk through it on his way to somewhere else.  Having Costner is a a flex in itself, of course (reportedly he’s earning $500K per episode), and the series is co-created (with John Linson) and the pilot written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the filmmaker who wrote and/or directed Sicario, Hell and High Water, and Wind River.  Despite all those credentials, in its early going Yellowstone is watchable but not quite compelling.

John Dutton is the owner of the largest cattle ranch in Montana, an old-line mega-cowboy with his own helicopter and enormous political power, and as we meet him, he’s facing challenges from rapacious developer Dan Jenkins (played, almost inevitably, by Danny Huston), and ambitious new local Native American Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham).  He also has the expected troubled relationships with his children:  dutiful Lee, who doesn’t survive the pilot; lawyer Jamie (Wes Bentley), valued but not respected by his father; hard-driving businesswoman Beth (Kelly Reilly), and rebel horse-trainer Kayce (Luke Grimes), who’s been estranged from John since marrying Native American Monica (Kelsey Asbille), but who’s closest to his father’s heart.

Costner is a commanding figure, and Yellowstone is drenched in atmosphere and production values, yet the 2-hour pilot felt somehow uninspired.  Sheridan’s previous scripts had the backbone of genre behind them–all crime thrillers, one way or another–and the more sprawling canvas of Yellowstone may not be a favor.  It’s to Sheridan’s credit that although the basic plotline reeks of a Dallas-type soap, the pilot avoids junkiness for the most part, and insists on telling its story soberly and with gravity.  Nevertheless, the set-up is overly familiar, and the characters and situations don’t have the nuance that we associate these days with Prestige TV–or, in its rendering of the relationship between whites and Native Americans, even a smart procedural like Longmire.  It also doesn’t help that women aren’t Sheridan’s forte:  of the two prominent females in the ensemble, Beth is the kind of career-driven harridan who’s called a “bitch” within minutes of her introduction, and who, when the on-and-off lover with whom she’s had brisk sex suggests a fuller relationship, responds “Funny, I always remember your dick as being bigger”; and while Monica is more sympathetically drawn, she’s pointedly removed from the scene when her father and husband discuss her future and that of her son.

There’s still plenty in Yellowstone that’s worth sticking with, whether it’s watching Costner do his ornery Great Man thing, or the machinations of Rainwater, or simply the majestic visuals.  For a show that’s clearly itching to build a homestead in the most deluxe part of television’s prairie, though, it hasn’t quite filed its claim.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."