That’s Ranching for You – 1923 (2022) Series Premiere

With five TV series on the air in 2022, all of which he claims primary writing credit for, prolific creator/producer Taylor Sheridan may have just about hit his limit. 1923, the newest entry in his Yellowstone saga, is a very dull affair that not even Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren can bring to any life.

Given that Sheridan has run out of ideas for what to call his Yellowstone shows beyond naming them after random calendar years, the title of this one should place it between the original Yellowstone and the prior prequel series, 1883. Does that make it a pre-sequel? A se-prequel? An in-betweenquel? Whatever you want to call it, the premiere episode falls pretty flat.

1923 Pilot Episode (2022) - Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton
Title:1923
Episode:1.01 – 1923
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2022
Watched On: Amazon Prime Video

Full disclosure: I’ve never watched an episode of either Yellowstone or 1883. As such, I’m definitely not the intended target audience. I watched the premiere of 1923 solely for Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, hoping this installment would stand well enough on its own merits without needing extensive knowledge of the others. Disappointingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. From the disembodied female narrator who drones on about her family but is never properly identified, to the utterly confounding relationships of the characters we do see on screen, I feel like I need to keep a Wikipedia page on the franchise open while watching to make any sense of who people are or how any of them connect to each other.

The pilot episode has an infuriating habit of not telling you anybody’s name. While most of the story takes place in Montana, a lengthy side plot has some guy (Brandon Sklenar, who recently played Burt Reynolds in The Offer) off on safari in Africa. Although I figured that he must somehow be related to the Dutton family, the episode waits until the very end to reveal that his name is Spencer, dropping that info as if expecting a shocked reaction from viewers: Holy shitballs, that guy was a young and/or old Spencer Dutton the whole time! I had no idea! Mind… blown!

Who is Spencer Dutton? Is some version of him at a different age an important character in Yellowstone or 1883? Beats me.

Another subplot about a young Indigenous girl (Aminah Nieves) being tormented by an abusive nun (Jennifer Ehle) at a Catholic residential school has similar problems. I have no idea what these characters have to do with the main story. I’m sure that will be elaborated upon later, but the lack of narrative clarity makes for a very frustrating premiere.

Full credit where it’s due, starting the episode with Helen Mirren in full pioneer garb hunting down and blowing away a dude (who? damned if I know) with a shotgun point blank to the chest is a hell of a way to kick off the series. I just wish the rest of the episode lived up to that cold open.

From as much as I know about them, all the Yellowstone shows follow the Dutton cattle ranching clan as they wield power and influence over the Montana territory across the generations. 1923 is a bridge series, both between the last prequel and the original show, and between the Old West and the modern day. During the transitional era when horses and automobiles had to share city streets, family patriarch Jacob Dutton (Ford) readies for a brewing range war with sheep herders whose flocks keep eating his precious grass. Meanwhile, when she isn’t shotgunning random people, his wife Cara (Mirren) prepares for the impending marriage of a jackass son (or possibly nephew, I’m still not sure) who, from Frame One, is so obviously not going to live long enough to see the wedding. As they deal with those issues on the homefront, the other son and/or nephew mentioned earlier is off playing wild game hunter on the far side of the planet.

A lot more plot is crammed into the show’s first hour, but I was too bored with it to pay much attention or care. Maybe some of it would make more sense if I’d seen the other two Yellowstone series, but I didn’t find the story particularly interesting and couldn’t make heads or tails of the family situation.

All the scenes set in Africa look fake as hell, blatantly shot in Montana with some backgrounds and animals digitally dropped in. A CGI leopard attack at the end is hilarious, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be.

The worst part of all this is that Harrison Ford sleepwalks through his role. Clearly just cashing a paycheck while waiting for his next Indiana Jones movie to finish up post-production, the star doesn’t put any effort into this at all. I predict that he won’t even be in the show very long. In classic bait-and-switch form, he’s just here to lure viewers in, but will get killed off in an episode or two and that’ll be the end of it.

Maybe someone fully invested in the Yellowstone saga will get more out of this than I did, but I think one episode is enough for me. I’m done.

1923 Pilot Episode (2022) - Brandon Sklenar as Spencer Dutton

Video Streaming

1923 streams on Paramount+ in 1080p high-definition, with no support for 4K or HDR (at least not on any of my devices). [Update: I’m informed that the series is available in 4K resolution on some devices, though still only Standard Dynamic Range.] The 2.00:1 image is reasonably sharp and survives the streamer’s heavy digital compression better than some programs on the platform, but flat contrast leaves the picture lacking depth. The 5.1 soundtrack is most notable for gunshots, which land with a satisfying crack.

Although I watched it on an ad-free tier, the episode has several annoying commercial insertion break points where the picture abruptly cuts to black and pauses between scenes.

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