Yellowstone has been an enormous success as a contemporary Western television series, giving rise to spin-off shows of varying quality. Following the tremendous success of the initial Yellowstone series, the franchise has expanded to include two prequels. Taylor Sheridan, a writer and producer known for creating gritty, complex characters and exploring real-world social and political issues, developed the world of Yellowstone.
Sheridan has become known as one of the industry's most engaging writers and has even more planned spin-offs for his Western universe on Paramount+. The franchise combines classical Western genre ideas with soap opera drama. Yellowstone delves into the world of the Dutton family, exploring the nature of land and power in the United States, while the prequels 1883 and 1923 examine the occupation and development of that land.
So far, the Yellowstone franchise has released seven TV seasons, immersing audiences in a world of cowboys, family drama, and political intrigue. Taylor Sheridan has revitalized the once-dormant Western genre in a way that remains relevant to the polarizing landscape of 21st-century America. The quality of the Yellowstone franchise shows varies, allowing for a deeper analysis and ranking.
1923 is the second prequel series introduced in the Yellowstone franchise, following the story of the Dutton family during the Prohibition and Great Depression eras. The cast of 1923 is highlighted by the expert performances of Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford, who portray Cara and Jacob Dutton, respectively. The casting alone is enough to draw viewers to 1923, and the first season manages to hold its own with its storytelling.
However, season 1 of 1923 is not particularly exceptional, as it follows similar story beats to Yellowstone, with the Dutton family contending with rivals seeking their ranch. 1923 falls short of capturing the captivating entertainment of 1883's lone season or the wider intrigue of Yellowstone. It exists somewhere between the two, with the potential to tell an extensive and more consistent story than Yellowstone, having had a more effective first installment than the original series. However, with only one season, 1923 is the weakest show in the Yellowstone franchise. Nevertheless, it is a testament to Taylor Sheridan's talents that the franchise continues to find new and intriguing voices in different eras, making it exciting to see how the series unfolds.
1883 serves as the first prequel to Yellowstone, chronicling the arduous journey of the Dutton family as they head north to their future in Montana. Led by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, with Sam Elliott in a supporting role, 1883 offers some of the most powerful performances in the franchise. The series also features the young actress Isabel May in the prominent role of Elsa. In its debut season, 1883 introduces the highest stakes in the Yellowstone universe, as the family finds themselves on a perilous frontiersman path, explaining how the Duttons came to own the Yellowstone Ranch land. Elsa stands out as she offers a fresh perspective, presenting the Western genre from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. Her spirited and adventurous nature provides a perfect contrast to the harsh realities of frontier America, and Elsa's tragic demise in the finale neatly ties together this idea. Although 1883 is a captivating piece of television, it falls short of reaching the level of greatness achieved by Yellowstone at its peak. The limited runtime of a miniseries format restricts the exploration of characters and ideas that Yellowstone excels at over time. While 1883 offers adventure, excitement, and consistent violence and action, it lacks the natural development and examination seen in Yellowstone, relying too heavily on Elsa's narration to drive the story. Even as a miniseries, 1883's ending feels abrupt, leaving room for further storytelling in this era of the Dutton family.
Yellowstone, the original series, has its fair share of flaws but also boasts the best television seasons in the franchise. Over five seasons, Yellowstone has delved deep into its characters and thematic ideas. Revolving around Kevin Costner's John Dutton and the modern-day ownership of the Yellowstone ranch, the series presents a captivating mix of unique personalities, compelling storylines, and thematic exploration. While season 1 of Yellowstone may not have had the smoothest start, with a slow-paced, convoluted narrative that occasionally felt excessive, the exceptional performances and breathtaking Montana landscape carry the show into its second season, where it finds its stride. Seasons 2 and 3 of Yellowstone see the Dutton family and their ranch facing off against various threats to their control, from the violent Beck Brothers to the powerful Market Equities corporation. These antagonists add complexity to the story, illustrating that although the Duttons may own more land than anyone deserves, there are forces even more ruthless in the world. Yellowstone follows in the footsteps of shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, featuring a morally complex lead character who seems to be heading towards their downfall. John Dutton, despite being a wealthy landowner and essentially a criminal, is not purely evil but rather a man driven by a desire to protect the natural world from modernity. The exploration of John Dutton's morality is a central question in Yellowstone, making it thought-provoking TV that surpasses both prequels. While recent seasons of Yellowstone may have left audiences disappointed with a decline in quality, the show's ending has the potential to redeem itself and make up for any low points. A satisfying conclusion could solidify Yellowstone as a great TV series. Even at its most ridiculous moments, Yellowstone has always been entertaining. The series boasts a plethora of great characters, from the unique personalities of the Dutton family to the engaging ensemble of supporting ranchers in the bunkhouse. Viewers have become deeply attached to the inhabitants of the Dutton Ranch, thanks to Yellowstone's meaningful overarching narrative.