Sunday, July 15, 2018

Pilot Review: Yellowstone

Yellowstone (Paramount)
Premiered June 20 at 9pm

I don’t read much, if anything, about shows before I watch them, and, more often than not, my expectations turn out to be wholly incorrect. I presumed that this was a period drama about the early years of the Old West and the creation of Yellowstone National Park, or something like that. Instead, it’s a modern-day drama that’s relatively heavy-handed and epic in its own way. Kevin Costner, who won an Oscar for directing “Dances with Wolves” back in 1990 and has often delivered lackluster performances in popular movies, most recently Best Picture nominee “Hidden Figures,” won an Emmy six years ago for anchoring “Hatfields and McCoys,” a miniseries that was set in the past. Here, he’s as stubborn, stoic, and determined as ever, leading a cast that has more than a few recognizable faces in it. Wes Bentley delivered a breakout performance almost twenty years ago in “American Beauty” and hasn’t done all that much of note since, and this seems like a relatively standard role, especially compared with that of his onscreen sister, played by Kelly Reilly, who made a real impression in “Flight” and has had a few major TV roles since then. Gil Birmingham is a reliable actor, from “Hell or High Water” and other projects, who seems to have a solid role as the head of the Indian reservation working with Jill Hennessy’s senator to make the concerns of his people heard. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” is the primary force behind this show, and while there are moments of intrigue and characters chewing plenty of scenery, something doesn’t quite spark here. The cinematography and editing are strong, but this sprawling family saga hardly feels like a vital landscape to be explored in this format.

How will it work as a series? This double-decker episode really did feel like a movie, with many more threads to be explored afterwards. There are more than enough characters to fill up an hour each week, and it’s certainly pleasant enough to look at given the obvious appeal of its setting. Still, it doesn’t feel original or truly energetic.
How long will it last? The premiere ratings were off the charts, scoring Paramount a win that it can’t possible ignore. Three more episodes have aired since this show debuted, and while reviews are mixed and far less enthusiastic than the numbers, I think that Paramount is going to want to certify this hit as just what it is, a potential flagship for the newly-rebranded network.

Pilot grade: B-

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