Are we still watching television? Yes we are! So it is time for a few recaps once more.
Yellowstone – Peacock/Paramount
Some friends kept recommending this, calling it the “Cowboy Sopranos,” but I think it is more like “Cowboy Succession.”
The first problem was finding a way to watch it without paying $1.99 an episode, because there is no TV series on earth that is worth that kind of money.
We found that the NBC streaming channel, Peacock, had the first two seasons of the show and that we didn’t even have to pay to see it. It was one of those things that if your local cable service had the channel, you could use the streaming app. You have to watch some ads, but not nearly as many as you would on live TV. The only jarring bit is that the show is cut into acts so ad breaks can be inserted between them and the Peacock ads DO NOT get injected into those transitions. Dumb, but what can you do?
Anyway, the show is about the Dutton family, headed by John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, who is as Kevin Costner as he always is. Some actors can become characters, other actors have the roles become them… he and Tom Cruise are in the latter category. The Duttons own a giant ranch in Montana called Yellowstone, which is close by the boarder of the national park of the same name. The park figures into none of this save for a tangential mention now and then, and a sly reference to the “zone of death” related to the park.
John Dutton has four children all in various states of relation to him, either rejecting him, trying to please him, doing his bidding, or working against him, depending on the situation. He manipulates them all with disappointment or praise as suits his plans.
The ranch is threatened by various real estate developers as well as the adjacent Indian reservation, the residents of which can’t go half a dozen sentences without reminding everybody with ear shot that the ranch used to be their land. The Duttons and their ranch hands handle problems in the cowboy way, which generally involves violence when the law won’t suffice. They beat people, threaten them, and murder now and then. They pretty much had to bring in a worse group in season 3 because the Duttons were very much shaping up to be the bad guys until then. They look more sympathetic against straight up kidnappers and murderers.
Meanwhile, their dysfunctional family and complicated relationships, as I noted above, remind me of Succession. And since somebody said Succession is pretty much a billionaire version of Arrested Development, I guess they are really the “Cowboy Bluths,” though missing the mediating presence of Michael. Like the Roys, I am not really sure who to root for because they’re all problematic in their own ways. But the show is still entertaining in a way that Succession has fallen away from. Lots of daily antics and arguments to amuse. Also, it has normalized drinking Coors beer, which is my old man brew of choice.
And then came season four, which is NOT on Peacock, but on the Paramount Network, which has its own app with the same deal about your local cable service and ads. However, our local cable service doesn’t carry the right channel, so we’re locked out until the season comes to Peacock or something else we can watch. But the first three seasons were worth the time, so we’ll wait for the fourth to come around.
Yellowjackets – Showtime
We picked up Showtime for a month to watch something else. Then, with the time left on the clock, we hunted for something else to watch, landing on Yellowjackets, which had just wrapped up its first season. We got hooked immediately.
The story revolves around a girls high school soccer team in mid-90s New Jersey that goes to the national championships, which are being held in Washington state. They board a chartered flight, but crash somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, where they have to survive for a year and a half before finally being rescued.
The story splits between modern day and the events on the ground after the crash, weaving the two parts of the story together very successfully. A lot of shows do this, but I haven’t watched one do it this well in a long time.
At the crash site, most of the team survives, though only one adult makes it through the crash, and they are badly injured. The team has to figure out how to survive as it becomes more and more obvious that immediate rescue isn’t in the cards. The radio beacon on the black box is on the fritz and it is 1996 and nobody has cell phones with a GPS in their pockets. (Also, nobody watched Gilligan’s Island, because there were at least half a dozen things they would have picked up from that show about getting rescued.)
Then there is modern day, where it is quickly obvious that there are a lot fewer survivors who made it back than who were alive after the crash. The baggage of those events weighs on the adults we see. They agreed on a basic “we survived” story and have otherwise remained quiet about events in the woods, though they remain local celebrities. But somebody is suddenly interested in what happened.
Meanwhile, back in the woods in 1996, you can see a Lord of the Flies scenario starting to emerge as the very competitive and athletic girls work out how to survive. There is something strange in the woods as well. But we only get glimpses of it before the season wraps up, leaving lots of questions and angry looks at the calendar knowing it will probably be a year before we get any more details. It was a good show, with a tight story and good acting, leaving you hungry for more even after ten episodes.
Ray Donovan – The Movie – Showtime
Three items in and I have already fallen off the color theme. Whatever. And I am not here to endorse this item really, but figured I would bring it up as this was the reason we picked up Showtime for a month and ended up watching Yellowjackets. Backstory. You like backstory right?
I wrote about the six seasons of Ray Donovan previously, a mixed bag of a show. But we went the distance with it, so the finale, the movie wrap up of the series seemed to be a must.
It wasn’t, really.
The series spends a lot of energy hinting at what happened back in Boston when Ray was a kid and why he and his father Mickey are at odds so often. If you were paying attention, they pretty much laid out all the key points about their past, so I wasn’t really worried about it. I wanted to see the current day resolved in some way.
But the people making the show really felt we needed a ride back to the 70s to go through, in detail, what happened back then, all as a flashback from the current day. Unlike Yellowjackets, this isn’t two stories being twisted together in parallel, this is more like a “remember when…” clip show, only the clips are brand new.
So, if you wanted to see the family history played out, how Ray got where he ended up, why Mickey went to jail, the story of Ray’s sister, and a pack of other details, you are set. I was there for the 70s cars and styles, but didn’t walk away thinking, “Now that is how you end a series.” It was fine fan service, and filled in some details, but didn’t thrill me.
The Book of Boba Fett – Disney+
If there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.
-Luke Skywalker, wrong as usual
I am going to have to do an inventory of how many of the Star Wars films and shows spend at least some time on Tattooine. If as much stuff went down there as I recall, either the empire or the republic should have a much more serious presence close to hand. And it is sandy, and sand is yellow, so back on the color theme, right?
Anyway, the last season of the Mandalorian introduced a bevy of characters set for spin-off shows, and the first of those to land was The Book of Boba Fett.
Of the seven episodes, the first four are basically setting the scene for the post-Mandalorian era events, telling parallel tales of how Boba got out of the sarlacc pit and where he went and what happened after he ran into Mando and him setting up shop on Tattooine.
Again, in comparison to Yellowjackets, this was an attempt to twist to timelines together. The problem here is that I just didn’t care. I was never a fan of the Fett, I wanted to be Han Solo, not some background bounty hunter whose costume looked like low rent cosplay. But he was popular beyond the extent of his roles in the original trilogy, and Han Solo shouted his name Return of the Jedi, so he has a fan base. I’m just not in that crowd.
As such, I wasn’t really invested in what he did before or after his appearance in The Manalorian, and the show plodded along with the assumption that anybody watching would think this was key to the Star Wars universe. Four episodes of that was too much.
Then for episodes five and six we left Boba Fett behind and the show became The Madalorian again, and was much more interesting to me. I really liked Mando on the ring habitat. I was having Ringworld flashbacks. Good times.
But Mando has to find his way to Tatooine, because of course he does, it is the literal bright sandy center of the Star Wars universe, drawing all plot lines to it, and hooks up with Boba to help solve his gang lord turf battle, with the final fight playing out in very predictable fashion. I don’t mind playing to the western theme, but when I know something mentioned in a previous episode has to come up in the final fight to turn the tide before it happens, then they might not be working hard enough.
Anyway, it was fine. So not great, nor as enjoyable as the first two seasons of The Mandalorian, but it was probably better than the last three films. Jon Favreau is probably channeling the best post-Lucas look into Star Wars we could reasonably hope for. Meanwhile, Amy Sedaris channeled many fan thoughts when she told Baby Yoda… because of course he shows up again… that Grogu is a horrible name and we’re not calling him that. #TeamBabyYoda
This being a Star Wars series, there are some other opinions on the series out there if you prefer: