When it comes to my TV watching, I care a lot more about entertainment than political correctness.
This explains why liberal me, who was unalterably opposed to the Bush administration's use of torture during the so-called War on Terror, could cheer on Jack Bauer in the 24 series when he'd use the cord of a table lamp to shock a suspected terrorist into divulging details of a dirty bomb threat.
It also explains why I'm a huge fan of Yellowstone, the Paramount series now in Season 5, even though a TIME magazine story asked a pertinent question in its title: "Is Yellowstone a Red-State Show? According to Fans, the Answer Is Complicated."
Download Is Yellowstone a Red-State Show? It's Complicated | Time
Well, not to me, for the same reason 24 wasn't a right-wing torture-loving show.
Yellowstone is a gripping tale of a ruthless ranching family who use means both fair and foul to protect their property from developers who want to make Montana into a playground for wealthy people with few ties to the state.
It's a lot like Succession. But Succession is about well-off urban people engaging in devious behavior and family disputes, while Yellowstone is about well-off rural people engaging in devious behavior and family disputes.
That one word difference, urban vs. rural, seems to be a factor in the reaction to the two shows by media elites. The TIME story says:
Since 2018, Yellowstone has become one of the most-watched scripted dramas on cable, often out-drawing shows on major networks. January’s fourth-season finale had over 9 million viewers the night it aired (excluding those who streamed it later), nearly double the number that watched the Season 3 finale.
By comparison, the Emmy-winning, critically acclaimed HBO drama Succession,which tells a similar story about a wealthy family fighting to hold on to its place in the modern world, drew 1.7 million on all platforms (including some 600,000 watching on cable) for its third-season finale a few weeks earlier.
But who is watching Yellowstone? That’s a question that tends to perplex people who write about TV for a living.
When the show’s fifth season debuts on Nov. 13, it will likely dominate the ratings yet again, all while drawing little attention from major media outlets or the people who hand out awards (it has been nominated for one Emmy.) Rotten Tomatoes links to 10 critic reviews for its fourth season, versus 141 for Succession’s third.
Recently I saw a post in my Facebook feed from someone who said that they'd watched the first episode or two of Yellowstone Season 1, but didn't like how violent it was and what a jerk Rip, the ranch foreman, is.
I left a comment on the person's post saying that I've watched every episode of the first four seasons and love Yellowstone, noting that I hope they'll give it more of a try, because the characters are complex. How they appear in the initial episodes isn't how they look as we learn more about them.
This excerpt from the TIME story resonates with me.
While it’s true that a lot of big hit shows have only a minimal presence in the larger popular culture—no one’s handing out Emmys or writing weekly think-pieces about NCIS: Hawaii, after all—it sure feels like Yellowstone should be discussed more.
Its star, Kevin Costner, is an Oscar winner. Co-creator and showrunner Taylor Sheridan wrote the critically acclaimed movies Sicario and Hell or High Water. His stories tackle corporate greed, class conflict, racial identity—all topics that usually get cultural commentators excited.
Republicans who support candidates vowing to protect faith, family, and the Second Amendment could certianly be drawn to Costner’s John Dutton, a rugged Montana ranching magnate who pines for the good old days and uses brute force against his political enemies. But the show does not seem to be trying to actively court that crowd.
Yellowstone’s premise is in line with classic nighttime soaps like Dallas, in which nearly every character has a little bit of angel and a little bit of devil in them, and where the stories sometimes dispense with logic to get to the next cliffhanger.
The issues Yellowstone raises about land stewardship and big business are relevant, but the plots are more about romance, violence and feuds—all played out against a gorgeous Montana backdrop.
One reason I find Yellowstone so refreshingly different is its seemingly mostly accurate portrait of life on a giant ranch. My wife largely likes Yellowstone for the horses. There's an amazing scene of the cowboys rounding up hundreds of horses, galloping full speed with the herd down a steep slope.
Directing Yellowstone requires a different set of skills than directing Succession, for sure. Ditto for the actors. The men and women who display some astounding riding skill, not to mention the skill of the horses they ride, aren't going to be found in a typical Hollywood casting call.
I also admire how multi-talented the ranch hands are. They can hunt, fish, train horses, mend fences, drive huge horse trailers, rope, fight, cheat, lie, play poker, murder, and a heck of a lot more besides. Those men, along with a few tough women, are the sort you'd want to have on your side.
Sure, they do a lot of nasty stuff. But that's a positive feature of Yellowstone, not a reason to dislike it. I enjoy shows where every character is a mixture of good and bad, light and dark, morality and immorality.
Because that's human nature. It's just a matter of degree. We're all the conniving yet admirable characters of Yellowstone, even if we aren't starring in our own TV series.