I finally watched Yellowstone — and here's what surprised me the most

Kevin Costner as John Dutton in Yellowstone
(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Curiosity got the better of me: I finally started watching Yellowstone. And it was easy, because the Paramount Network series is available on Peacock (which I already pay for, to watch WWE events, because I'm that kind of person — one that understands why others look down on his streaming habits). 

That last little bit of self-deprecation should give you a little insight as to why I came to Yellowstone looking to be entertained. After years of its ratings success with little critical consensus or awards to its name — sometimes, people compare it to critical darling Succession, which I love — Yellowstone looked like a force to be reckoned with. 

All of that, plus little I've recently learned about the public demand and interest in Yellowstone season 5 gave me an itch. Much like how I recently finally started Cobra Kai (it may be one of the best shows on Netflix, but I couldn't finish season 1), I eventually give in and watch long-running shows out of a bit of curiosity.

And because I'm a completionist, I started out right at the beginning. I didn't want to watch this phenomena without some missing context. I wanted no excuses. Spoiler alert: I'm going to keep watching. That said, I'm not in love with it, either. I'm a little bit mystified and confused, too. 

Yellowstone is not exactly meant for me

Full disclosure: I'm a city slicker. And Yellowstone's central narrative — the story of rancher John Dutton (Kevin Costner) trying to keep a hold on his land in Montana — isn't something I can really connect with. I understand a want to keep development off of untouched land. The beauty of Montana's plains is clearly on display here. I just don't ever expect to own land of my own, much less the acreage that the Dutton family has. But that shouldn't be a deal-breaker. I can understand his plight slightly, when I think about it in terms of gentrification, a word that was seemingly intentionally not said in this show. 

No matter where you turn in the first 92-minute long episode (more like movie at that clip) of Yellowstone, talk most often turns to land ownership. But when I learned about how Yellowstone ranch hands get branded, to show how they are both practically "owned" and a part of the family, I felt more unease. My city-boy nature, I could tell, was showing. Everyone in this debate seemed slightly wrong. Dutton for owning such a large glut of land, the greasy folks who want to take it from him and put rodeos on that property and Dutton's son who suggests that Montana build 'up' with condos, instead of using that territory for needed housing. A friend tells me that this son, Jamie, is actually a villain. So, that has me intrigued.

Kevin Costner stars in Yellowstone season 4

(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Sometimes, fortunately, things dip into family issues such as estranged relatives. That's more interesting. Costner's John Dutton wants to be a part of his grandson's Tate's life, but Tate's dad Kayce split ways from the family, and lives with his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille), an Indigenous American who lives in the Broken Rock Indian Reservation. There's something interesting there, but it's all too minimized at this point.

But Yellowstone not pertaining to my experience is not a deal-breaker. I am able to watch stuff that isn't really in my wheelhouse. For example Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a series I watched all of, to cover it here — even though Fantasy isn't my genre. And at first, I actually enjoyed it. That didn't last too long, though.

Yellowstone's biggest shocker for me is its characters

I genuinely don't want this article to be about a city vs country split. We don't need that sort of divisive talk right now. But I'm primarily not enthused with Yellowstone because of its cast of characters being much more boring and dry than I'd expected for such a popular show. Watching all 90 minutes of its first episode, I kept thinking "This? This is the biggest show on cable?"

So far, John Dutton (Costner) is one of those characters that doesn't speak much, so that every word he does says counts more. I get that there's a tough, cool, cowboy archetype he's playing to, but it doesn't do much for me when the central character of a show barely says much, and when he does I have to turn up the volume.

(L to R) Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica (Kelsey Asbille), John (Kevin Costner), Beth (Kelly Reilly) and Rip (Cole Hauser) in Yellowstone art

(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Even worse, are the Dutton boys and other ranch employees. Each, it feels like, lives a more miserable experience than the last. For example, there's Jamie (yes, Wes Bentley is still acting here's where he's hiding), a lawyer who is seemingly disliked by everyone — with little reason as to why. Maybe that's because people don't like lawyers? The aforementioned Kayce seems like a good man who wants to do right by his family, but has the charisma of sawdust. Then, there's Lee (Dave Annable), who John talks down to for little apparent reason. 

Yellowstone gets a lot of "Succession, but in Montana" talk, but from where I'm sitting, I'd rather chat with the worst Roy Boy than any male in the Dutton tree. Greg the Egg and Tom may be failsons of the highest degree, but they're at least humorous (however unintentionally that may be).

Kelly Reilly stars as Beth Dutton in Yellowstone

(Image credit: Paramount Network)

Fortunately, the Dutton sons have a sister who is far more interesting: Beth (Kelly Reilly). Arriving on the scene in Yellowstone to smolder, look down upon others and disassemble the confidence of a stranger at the bar in mere minutes, Beth clears the "interesting" bar with ease. She even uses ranch hand Rip (Cole Hauser) for her own pleasure before emasculating him verbally on her way out the door.

Beth isn't why I'll keep watching Yellowstone, but (so far) she's one of the show's clear signs of life.

I'm watching more Yellowstone out of fairness and curiosity

As I mentioned above, I gave The Rings of Power — which I have no personal interest in ever watching again — a whole season. But that's not how I started out. In between writing a review of its first episodes, and watching the next few, my opinion about Rings of Power swung wildly from curious to "can this somehow get canceled?"

So, I want to try and give Yellowstone a similar try. Right now, I've invested 92 minutes into the series, and I feel as if I'll be more confident with a judgement about the show after I've finished its fourth episode. Looking at the running times for the series, that will put me at just under four hours total. By that point, I feel like I'll have given Yellowstone a true chance. Unless, of course, a whole lot of you write to me and say "It gets better in season 2." As someone who's heard that about many a shows — Parks and Recreation and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer come to mind — I could be convinced. Yellowstone's in its fifth season, with no signs of slowing down. It already spun off one prequel — 1883 — and It's got Harrison Ford and Dame Helen Mirren in the new 1923 prequel series.

There's a nugget of a show I'd enjoy in Yellowstone, so I'll keep looking for it.

Next: The best streaming offer right now is Hulu's $1.99 Black Friday deal.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • disqus_Kkj6gvWPcB
    Beth is so far the most grotesque and disturbed character in the series... True this is a drama but if you are only watching the show for her I suggest you watch Tornado, car wreck, and you tube brawl footage.
    Beth for any decent person should be the reason they almost don't watch the series her only rival for being completely distasteful is the CEO of market equities.

    If people in larger metropolitan areas are really going around with this much hate and contempt in their lives it's no wonder depression and gun violence are such concerns. I live in a city with around 100,000 people rural America needs to be appreciated and emulated. No wonder people are fleeing California and New York for other open States.