‘1923’ Review: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren Elevate Yellowstone Spinoff | Daily News Byte

‘1923’ Review: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren Elevate Yellowstone Spinoff

 | Daily News Byte

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Taylor Sheridan, creator of “Yellowstone” and tireless workhorse of Paramount+, has proven himself to be a gifted writer with a perfectly clear vision of the stories he wants to tell. He’s produced an impressive slate of dramas filled with cowboys, cobras and compromised cops, including three “Yellowstone” spin-offs. Sheridan will likely continue his aggressive expansion with Paramount’s blessing. Instead, Sheridan wisely chose quality over quantity.

“1883,” the first prequel to the “Yellowstone” branch, was initially presented as an open-ended series that would follow the earliest days of the powerful Dutton family as they lead a wagon train west. But Sheridan thought better of it, instead deciding to treat the “Yellowstone” spinoffs as anthologies. Instead of advancing the characters in season one, the next installment of “1883” will star David Oyelowo as Bass Reeves, the real-life Black marshal who created frontiers during the same era.

Approaching spin-offs as a limited series comes with many benefits, among them the reduced risk of mass audiences with a very broad and interconnected storyline. Sheridan is improving his Emmy odds by also doing seasons of the “Yellowstone” anthology, as the series’ limited categories are more forgiving. But most importantly, the anthology model allows Sheridan to attract the kind of marquee actors who are drawn to television storytelling but repelled by long hours and massive time commitments.

In the case of “1923,” Sheridan’s troupe included Helen Mirren and, in his television series debut, Harrison Ford. Mirren and Ford – both 80-ish, and no strangers to action badassery – make for a terrific pairing, their chemistry alone enough to make “1923” feel like an elevated version of Sheridan’s neo-Western fare. . Ford stars as Jacob Dutton and Mirren as Cara, his Irish-born wife. (For those interested in specific genealogy, these Duttons appear to be the great-great-uncle and great-aunt of Kevin Costner’s character in the series Motherhood.)

Set roughly 40 years after the Duttons first laid claim to what would become their sprawling Montana ranch, “1923” finds the family navigating the epochal changes around them. With the rising tide of Prohibition (and the Great Depression looming on the horizon), these were lean times, and resentment of the landed gentry ran high. Much of that resentment is directed at the Duttons, who face the same struggle to keep their land of abundance as their current relatives. To paraphrase the late, great Notorious BIG: Mo’ Montana, Mo’ Problems.

One of those problems involves Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn of “Game of Thrones”), a Scottish-born sheep herder who is first seen raising hell for being denied the privilege of grazing on the Duttons’ land. Flynn’s wide eyes suggest Banner’s barely concealed anger. And there will be plenty of other adversaries to defeat beyond the pilot episode, the only one screened for critics from the first of two eight-episode seasons planned for “1923.” “Yellowstone” mines its suspense from the myriad threats surrounding the ranch, and with Timothy Dalton set to appear as a rival rancher, “1923” should recreate the troubled-from-all- side tension.

Despite the promise it suggests, the pilot has an awkward structure that makes it difficult to tell what a typical episode will consist of once the series moves forward. Like “1883,” the episode begins with scenes of murder paired with a tired narrator who promises that the Duttons have barely scratched the surface of their impending conflict. (Isabel May retains voiceover duties despite her character’s ultimate fate in “1883,” adding a literal ghost to the gaggles of figurative ghosts that haunt the Dutton Ranch.)

After introducing Jacob and Cara, along with their nephew John Sr. (James Badge Dale) and his son Jack (Darren Mann), and sketch out the Duttons’ most pressing problems, the focus shifts to a character who is initially distant from the Duttons. Teonna (Aminah Nieves) is a Native American teenager held in one of the era’s horrific “boarding schools,” which are essentially reprogramming centers designed to remove Native youth from their culture.

The tight focus on Teonna’s suffering was a no-brainer for “1923,” if only because Sheridan’s work is so easy to criticize for glorifying European settlers at the expense of the natives they forcibly displaced. And her scenes, like the rest of the pilot, were beautifully covered by director Ben Richardson, Sheridan’s longtime cinematographer. But the character is so isolated from the others, her scenes don’t yet feel like part of the same show.

The same can be said for scenes featuring Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar), another of Jacob and Cara’s nephews, who is on an entirely different adventure on the other side of the world. “1923” keeps a lot of plates spinning, consistent with Sheridan’s plot-forward style. (The pilot was bookended with two violent deaths and ends with a jump scare, lest anyone set in such a bummer hour think the show is less complex or fun.) And who knows, maybe the show has weakened despite their awesomeness. cast. But the good thing about Sheridan’s new business model is that if you’re not looking for that particular flavor of “Yellowstone,” you’ll probably enjoy one of the next five.

“1923” debuts Sunday, December 18, on Paramount+.

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