Ponderosa Mafia (Series Review: “Yellowstone”)

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Kevin Costner smolders as the conflicted magnate of the largest cattle ranch in the U.S., whose family code more reflects The Godfather than Bonanza. Is he Ben Cartwright or Don Corleone on horseback?

SnapShot Plot

A thrilling, emotion-packed and violent family saga, Yellowstone (on the Paramount Network) is the sweeping story of the Dutton family, whose Montana cattle ranch, the Yellowstone, is the largest in the country, roughly the size of Rhode Island. To grasp its scope, this is the kind of territory which requires a helicopter (rather than horses) to make the rounds of all the Yellowstone lands. The patriarch, John Dutton is portrayed by Kevin Costner with the understated laconic style for which the actor has become an American legend. Dutton, with the aid of most of his adult children, runs the family business with an iron fist, yet commands the loyalty and outright fealty of everyone who works for him. That goes double for his progeny. To put it mildly, like a new horse on the ranch, once you’re broken in to the world of Yellowstone, you’re branded for life.

Over the course of 9 episodes in Season 1, which go by in a flash, an epic battle is being waged between the Dutton enterprise and two threatening elements: a sprawling land development deal anchored by an old enemy; and a newly elected Indian tribal leader who is hell bent on reclaiming his people’s land from the family who snatched it away six generations earlier. To complicate matters, Dutton’s youngest son Kayce (played by Luke Grimes) lives on the reservation with his Indian wife and young son, having fled his father’s control years earlier. The other Dutton offspring include: Jamie (played by Wes Bentley), the family attorney whose political ambitions become problematic for his father; Lee, the oldest son who provides security services for the ranch; and the most complicated of all, Beth (played by Kelly Reilly), the troubled and formidable daughter who would take a bullet for her father but is capable of indescribable cruelty and abuse herself.

The power and position enjoyed by John Dutton (and the enviable entitlement that comes with his family name) have been purchased through generations of hard work but enforced by the kind of thuggery and criminal backroom machinations that make him someone to be feared by all who might trespass on his kingdom. As his enemies begin to converge and the Duttons find themselves at war with the world around them – as well as with each other – a showdown is inevitable. Who will fall and who will gallop into the sunset?

 

Parting Shot

Admittedly, the gorgeously filmed Yellowstone is not available on a streaming service but rather On Demand, on the Paramount Network. But this well-acted, dramatic and well-scripted show seems to have fallen through the cracks to a wider streaming audience, and it really shouldn’t be missed. Created by rising star, Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Sicario, Hell or High Water) it’s a family saga that in some ways resembles Bonanza – a powerful patriarch/widower cattle rancher and the homestead he shares with his adult children – but there the similarities end. While Bonanza’s Ben Cartwright represents the Leader as an Everyman epic hero, Yellowstone’s John Dutton turns the trope sideways, manifesting his Leadership as a Machiavellian construct, ruthless to the bitter end. Yet his devotion to his family is unshakable, sacrosanct. So, like Michael Corleone (and Tony Soprano after him) we are drawn to John like moths to a flame. And of course on some deep, primal level we are John Dutton, convincing ourselves that when it comes to protecting our own, all bets are off the table.

Yellowstone is presently streaming on The Paramount Network, On Demand. Season 2 will premier on June 19, 2019.

Much in the same way that real-life location shoots can rise to the level of real estate ‘porn’  (think Diane Keaton’s Hamptons home in As Good As It Gets), check out this article about the Montana log mansion that doubles for the Dutton family home: https://nypost.com/2018/07/13/montana-log-mansion-brings-splendor-to-yellowstone/

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters’ rights on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr32f0rnK1o

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