THE SERIES "Yellowstone"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the Paramount Network
WHAT IT'S ABOUT John Dutton (Kevin Costner) heads the biggest cattle ranch in the United States, which borders an American Indian reservation and Yellowstone National Park. A widower who relies on his children, he's also in the middle of a fight with the neighbors, including some who want to build a luxury condo city that will deplete his water supply. Meanwhile, the reservation — under new boss Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) — wants to right some old wrongs, including Dutton's ranch. Dutton's adult children are not quite in solidarity with the old man: Beth (Kelly Reilly) is a tough, ambitious corporate executive; Jamie (Wes Bentley) is a lawyer who wants daddy's approval; and Lee (Dave Annable) has devoted his life to his father and is now heir apparent. That leaves Kayce (Luke Grimes), an Army veteran who married Monica (Kelsey Asbille), an American Indian, and now lives on the reservation with their son, Tate (Brecken Merrill).
This 10-parter — shot in Utah — was created and written by Taylor Sheridan (Oscar nominated for his original screenplay of 2016's "Hell or High Water").
MY SAY "Yellowstone" may be called "Yellowstone," but don't come here expecting some beauty shots of geysers or a photogenic bear. There's not a gift shop in sight either. There's a touch of the cynical in the name, blended with a dash of the bitter, as if to say, "Abandon all romantic illusions you may have of the mythic West. The reality is ugly."
And ugly does indeed clash with grandeur in every shot. When Sheridan won an award at Cannes for "Wind River," his 2017 movie about an American Indian woman raped and murdered by wildcatters, he had a statement read during the ceremony, which said in part: "There is nothing I can do to change the issues afflicting Indian country, but what we can do as artists — and must do — is scream about them with fists clenched."
"Yellowstone" is that fist-clenching scream, and Sheridan doesn't squander the opportunity: This West, his West, is a sprawl of oil jobbers, land grabbers, cattle barons, political hacks and other assorted villains who look to those storied mountains and see either dollar signs or impediments. As always, American Indians are at the bottom of this mosh pit, left to sort through the lies and empty promises.
This is an unusual vision for a 10-hour miniseries on a new TV network, but given Sheridan's righteous anger and Costner's most famous credit ("Dances With Wolves") only a fool would have expected a remake of "Dallas." "Yellowstone" is a hard-edged, contemptuous enterprise, and — even with that majestic landscape as setting — a brutal one, too.
It also happens to be self-assured, with a sense of the history that shaped these old feuds and the characters who keep fighting them. Costner's Dutton has a long view of this history which stops, conveniently, at about the point when white settlers carved up Indian lands. He's old school, with a keen sense of frontier honor — "It's taking threats now to do what favors used to" — that's been pricked by the corporate jackals who want to build luxury condos in his backyard. That sense of honor doesn't, by the way, extend to the Indians who also live in his backyard.
Sheridan and co-showrunner John Linson ("Sons of Anarchy") want to demolish old myths and old storybook heroes like Dutton, while disorienting viewers just enough to get them to think about why the demolition is necessary. They do, but what's absent is the faintest shred of optimism or glimmer of hope. Fist-clenching may be a novel approach, also a self-negating one, and "Yellowstone" — good writing, solid cast, nice views aside — can also be a bummer at times.
BOTTOM LINE Nicely done series that can also, from a viewer perspective, be depleting.