The Yellowstone franchise has proved to be a tremendous success, debuting just four years ago on the Paramount Network and quickly becoming its flagship show. Season five is currently in full swing, and its first prequel series, 1883, debuted at this time last year on sister streaming service Paramount+. Now, the Dutton family is once again being spotlighted in its long history in Montana, checking in forty years after the previous series with 1923, which fits within the overall universe but still has its own particular, time-influenced story.
The first scene of the premiere episode opens on Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) chasing a man off her property with a shotgun. Law and order is still not an established or entirely effective principle in the area, as Cara’s husband Jacob (Harrison Ford) finds a need for threats and force to ensure that those who don’t wish to comply with the way he wants to run things are dealt with before they cause too much trouble. Teonna (Aminah Nieves) and other Native Americans are subjected to harsh treatment at a local boarding school, while a separate storyline follows Jacob’s nephew Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), a World War I veteran hunting tigers in Africa.
One of the major appeals of this series for anyone with or without any allegiance to or knowledge of the shows that spun it off is the chance to see two movie stars on TV. It has become an increasingly popular trend over the past few decades as television has evolved from broadcast, cable, and premium to a string of streaming services producing hundreds of high-quality shows each year for those better known for their film roles to take on high-profile small-screen gigs. It’s particularly alluring to see two actors who, despite not being alive when the show is set, were born only a short time later in the 1940s step into these parts after so much film work.
Ford and Mirren are well-suited to these roles, but, just as with the two shows that have preceded this one, it’s truly an ensemble effort. There’s no shortage of talent to be found in the cast. James Badge Dale and Marley Shelton stand out as members of the Dutton family, while Sklenar communicates a harrowing experience in the war that follows him as he tries to find meaning while he’s halfway across the world from his relatives. Robert Patrick and Jerome Flynn deliver as an ally and nemesis for the Duttons, respectively, while Sebastian Roché and Jennifer Ehle find great depth as the religious figureheads who enact harsh suffering upon the Native Americans they are charged with educating and shaping for their path into the world.
The pilot episode of 1923 does contain a few memorable lines of dialogue, most delivered in a typically snarky manner by Ford. “I have what my family fought for. You want to fight me for it” is one such example, as is “I’ve been here since 1894. I do not remember an easy year.” Those mentions reference a true bond to the land for the Dutton family, and this show contains so many characters and distinct storylines that it’s likely possible for audiences to find something to connect with even if it doesn’t all prove engaging.
But it’s also crowded and somewhat dense, likely more appealing to those already invested in this franchise than new viewers not otherwise drawn to slow-paced westerns. Whereas other series seem interested in charting new cinematic territory, 1923, which was announced as a two-season series intended to have eight episodes per installment, feels most concerned with delivering more of the same, building on the popularity of a narrative and formula that are evidently effective to a large audience.
1923 premieres Sunday, December 18th on Paramount+ , with subsequent new episodes beginning weekly on Sundays starting January 1st.