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1923 Review: Yellowstone Prequel Is a Promising Mix of Familiar and Fresh

Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren lead the latest expansion of Taylor Sheridan's franchise

Liam Mathews
Helen Mirren, 1923

Helen Mirren, 1923

Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Taylor Sheridan can't do this forever. His workload of writing, producing, and occasionally directing and acting in multiple shows and movies at a time will become unsustainable, and his winning streak that allows him to have complete creative control will inevitably come to an end. But that time has not yet come, and until it does, Sheridan is going to ride his horse at full gallop and do extravagant stuff like put Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren in a Western epic that's filmed on two continents and probably costs as much as the GDP of a small nation. 1923 is not even close to the beginning of the end of the Sheridan era. It feels like another hit for the Yellowstone kingpin.

1923 is Yellowstone's second prequel series, after last year's 1883. That limited series told the story of the Dutton family's arduous journey to the land that became the Yellowstone Ranch, which John Dutton (Kevin Costner) is still trying to hold on to in the flagship series. 1923 finds the ranch settled and successful under the stewardship of Jacob Dutton (Ford), the brother of 1883's James Dutton (Tim McGraw), and Jacob's wife Cara (Mirren), but there are always problems. No matter what decade it is, somebody is always threatening the Duttons' way of life. 

Because it's set on the ranch, 1923 is more like Yellowstone than 1883 was. Jacob even has the hereditary Dutton man job of Montana livestock commissioner. He has to deal with a drought that has left the region without enough grass for everyone's livestock, cattle disease, tensions between cowboys and sheepherders led by belligerent Scotsman Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn), Prohibition, and a plague of locusts. His growly "my way or the highway" leadership, as well as the ranch-life stuff, like Cara talking the young woman (Michelle Randolph) betrothed to her great-nephew Jack Dutton (Darren Mann) into accepting that being married to a cowboy means always being second to the ranch, will feel very familiar to fans of Yellowstone. It's the same kind of storytelling, with different costumes and fewer F-words. 


  • Cinematic ambition
  • A different take on the Yellowstone franchise


  • One episode is too small of a sample size to fully evaluate a show like this

Where 1923 deviates from the Yellowstone formula is in its other two storylines. One follows Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar), James Dutton's younger son, as he works as a hunter-for-hire killing man-eating big cats in Africa (Yellowstone began with John Dutton putting down an injured horse, and yet I'm somehow always still surprised at the amount of animal death in the franchise). Spencer is a shellshocked Great War veteran who does not want to go home to Montana, which he describes to an acquaintance he meets in Kenya as the American "mountain version of this place," in one of 1923's most perfectly Sheridanian lines of dialogue. He's wandering all over Africa searching for the piece of himself he lost. Like 1883, 1923 is narrated from beyond the grave by Elsa Dutton [Isabel May], who warns from the moment Spencer is introduced that his story is bound to end in tragedy. The international, Hemingway-influenced storyline opens up new possibilities for the Yellowstone franchise.

The other storyline follows Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves), a young Indigenous woman at a cruel parochial school for Native Americans run by the sadistic nun Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) and the more compassionate but still merciless Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché). The Yellowstone franchise, and Sheridan's work in general, has always been concerned with the mistreatment of Native American people, women in particular, but the franchise has never had a thread as devoted to that theme as Teonna's appears to be. 

Paramount+ only sent the first episode for review, so it's hard to say where any of these storylines are headed. This is not a review of the season as a whole. But just based on the premiere, 1923 is an ambitious undertaking with a ton of potential that will give fans of Yellowstone a series that at times feels familiar and other times feels like it's expanding what Yellowstone can be. And nothing can match the Yellowstone franchise for the grandness of its cinematography and the  distinctiveness of its flavorful dialogue. No one writes like Taylor Sheridan, and that's why he gets to make stuff like 1923.

Premieres: Sunday, Dec. 18 on Paramount+ (the premiere will also air after the Yellowstone S5 midseason finale on Paramount Network)
Who's in it: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, Jerome Flynn, Brandon Sklenar, Aminah Nieves, James Badge Dale, Darren Mann
Who's behind it: Taylor Sheridan
For fans of: Yellowstone, Ernest Hemingway
How many episodes we watched: 1 of 8