A good cowboy cookout can change anyone’s perspective. Even if you’re a casual fan of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone universe of shows on the Paramount Network, you’ll know that its brand of cattle wrangling, whiskey sipping, and bull riding has won over the country to become the most-watched show on cable television. Of course, it helped that the series about a family sitting on generations of wealth also featured enough violence to make Kevin Costner’s John Dutton look something like Montana’s Tony Soprano.
But something happened to Sheridan’s body of work as he stretched himself across more television series. There’s Tulsa King with Sylvester Stallone, Mayor of Kingstown with Jeremy Renner, and Yellowstone spinoffs 1883 spirit 1923. With each new line on Sheridan’s IMDB page, Yellowstone—the flagship series that kicked this empire off—started to fall behind. In Yellowstone, we’d see the occasional cowboy party. Actor Luke Grimes earned significant B-roll time to air his new country song. Our favorite characters regressed into their soapiest caricatures. Meanwhile, at the end of 1923‘s third episode—an otherwise innocuous continuation of Yellowstone‘s prequel-spinoff train—a surprise attack from the series villain resulted in a major death and a serious cliffhanger for Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton. Over the past couple of years, slowing down Yellowstone down might have redirected well-earned attention to spinoffs like 1923. But as Yellowstone prepares for franchise eternity, will its dissatisfied fans continue to follow Sheridan into Paradise Valley?
At just a cursory glance of the fan response to Yellowstone Season Five, even devotees are not happy with the show’s direction. “The show continues its slide into low grade melodrama soap opera,” one fan wrote on Rotten Tomatoes. “Taylor… you are stretched too thin.” The current season has a series-low 30% audience score—a major drop from Season Four’s 79% and a steep fall from Season Two’s high of 91%. “Did the writers run out of material?” read another comment. “The characters are saying the same old things… doing the same old things… becoming incredibly predictable. We love Yellowstone, but these first two hours were DRY.” Ouch. Meanwhile, critics are in love with 1923. “Amazing show, finally some good content,” one Rotten Tomatoes user wrote. “The best TV has to sacrifice,” quipped another. Sure, review-bombing has plagued sites like Rotten Tomatoes for years now—and Yellowstone loyalists speak their minds, to say the least. But it feels like there’s truth in the critical barrage.
So, why ice 1923 succeeding where Yellowstone isn’t it? Well, 1923 not only stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, but it continues the Dutton family fight during a more exciting time in American history. Yellowstone, still seen in the present day, has mainly been working with the same cast and familiar threats for five seasons. An evil hedge fund named Market Equities wants to turn John Dutton’s ranch into an airport, Thomas Rainwater wants to reclaim the land for the reservation, and the outcast son, Jamie Dutton, will do whatever it takes to get revenge on the father that never showed him any sign of love. Yellowstone may have been a gripping soap opera when the parties involved were also actively trying to kill each other, but now we’re at a mysterious standstill.
Don’t count Sheridan out, though. It’s still possible that this summer’s debut of Yellowstone Season Five, Part Two will prove that the past eight episodes were merely just the eye of the storm. Until then, it seems like Sheridan is having a lot more fun with his other projects. 1923 has already confirmed a second season. The gritty prison drama, Mayor of Kingstown, just kicked off Season Two. And the upcoming Lioness will star Nicole Kidman, Morgan Freeman, and Zoe Saldana as undercover CIA operatives.
Sheridan may have started out on a Montana ranch, but the most overworked TV writer in the business is certainly stretching his legs now. Hell, that all sounds way more fun than the current one Yellowstone plot about a bacterial disease that’s threatening John Dutton’s cattle. Season Four even sent one of the show’s characters, Jimmy, to the 6666 Ranch in Texas, which has long been the location for a planned spinoff series. Jimmy learned how to be a real cowboy, wooed himself a serious girlfriend, and had an awesome time further down south. Sure, you’d love to see more of that. But that’s the problem. Yellowstone should stand on its own two feet—and not beg us to look over our shoulder to the next spinoff.
Either way, the 6666 series is already around the corner. Maybe that’s why, for Part Two, Sheridan is sending half of the Yellowstone crew to his Bosque Ranch in Texas, where the writer—who plays horse trainer Travis Wheatly on the Paramount Network series—also resides in real life. If Part Two just sells us the long-awaited 6666 spinoff series, we’ll have our answer. Until then, I guess it’s more horsey montages.
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