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‘Yellowstone’ Is an Over-the-Top Throwback to Primetime Soaps of Yore

Take a shot of Dynasty’s totally bonkers primetime soapiness, a dash of Sons of Anarchy macho-tough-guy ethos, and a twist of the Bundy standoff and you’ve got Yellowstone. The show, which stars Kevin Costner as the billionaire patriarch of a Montana ranching family, has become a surprise breakout hit since debuting last year, and season 2 is now the “#1 summer series on cable,” according to the show’s producers.

Co-creators Taylor Sheridan and John Linson first enjoyed success together with Sons of Anarchy, as actor and producer respectively. Since then, Taylor launched a successful screenwriting career, penning the critically acclaimed Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Their newest collaboration is Yellowstone, an old-school family drama about the Duttons, who own the largest ranch in America and finds themselves in a three-front battle with real estate developers, the United States government and a neighboring Indian reservation.

Costner is one of our last remaining Western stars, having starred in Silverado, Dances With Wolves, Wyatt Earp, and Open Range, among others, and it suits him, especially in his old age. The tanned, leathery skin, the taciturn aw-shucks demeanor masking a tough interior. He is very much at the center of the action in Yellowstone, but this is definitely an ensemble effort. `

Wes Bentley is the eldest son, Jamie, who longs for the city life and is running for attorney general — things between him and dad are not great. When one of the workers on his campaign reveals herself to be an undercover investigative reporter, she offers him the choice to be the subject of her upcoming feature or a source, in essence blackmailing him into ratting out his father. This likely will do little to help the already strained relationship.

Luke Grimes (who looks suspiciously like Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam) is Kayce Dutton, an ex-Navy SEAL who tries to straddle the divide between his father and the nearby reservation by marrying and fathering a son with Monica, a resident of the Broken Rock reservation. He and the missus are, shall we say, on hiatus. When he finds himself estranged from his wife and son, he redoubles his focus on the ranch.

Neither son is as close to John as Rip (Cole Hauser), who was taken in by the family as a boy and has the passion of the converted, feeling a greater sense of loyalty than Jamie or Kayce could ever muster. He is John’s chief enforcer, a man who brings an admirable sense of imagination to the dispensation of violence. Honestly, using a bull to force a bunch of barful of goons through a bottleneck so you can take them down one by one shows a level of creativity that most folks simply don’t bring to their work.

Rip’s ingenuity extends to his hiring practices, as he recruits Avery, a stripper at a local club, to work as a ranch hand. Her arrival at the bunkhouse sends the previously all-male crew into paroxysms of discomfort, and the fact that Luke ends up taking the bunk just above Avery’s almost certainly bodes well for the health of his marriage.

No one is throwing themselves into the fray with more gusto than Kelly Reilly as daughter Beth Dutton, a pill-popping, chain-smoking, hard-drinking roundheel who is fiercely dedicated to her father, much to her own detriment. John has the boys to handle the violence, but when he wants real dirty work done, like visiting Jamie at his campaign offices to cut up his credit cars and repo his truck, he turns to Beth. What haunts Beth is anyone’s guess, but a good shrink might pinpoint the terrifying bath-time pep-talk given by her now-deceased mom when she was young.

If there’s a hole in your life can only be filled with a weekly dose of greed, scheming, bed-hopping, backstabbing, substance abuse, melodrama, fistfights and sweaty ranch hands, you are in luck, ‘cuz Yellowstone is ticking all the boxes.

Check out new episodes of Yellowstone at 10pm ET Wednesdays on the Paramount Network; catch up on past episodes on-demand.