Following the success of chaotic cowboy drama Yellowstone, co-creator Taylor Sheridan has been given an entire book of blank checks, and has cashed as many as he could manage in just five years. While his involvement in these TV projects wavers, sometimes drastically, his brand has always been on point.
With over half a dozen shows now within the House of Sheridan, let’s take a look at how each program measures up against the rest of the catalog.
7. Lawmen: Bass Reeves
The story of real life American folk legend Bass Reeves (David Oyelowo) was originally supposed to be a larger cog in the Yellowstone prequel machine, but as it continued to evolve, it became its own standalone project, which works both for and against the show. Part of the charm of the Yellowstone prequels for any Sheridan fan is getting to search for connections between the different generations of the Dutton family. Naturally, any show can thrive without being connected to the first family of Montana, but without that angle, Bass Reeves lacks the same cabal of interesting characters.
Truthfully, Sheridan had very little to do with this series, only acting as executive producer, but some familiar Sheridan touches persist. Like other Sheridan shows, there is tactful and thoughtful representation of First Nations culture, and how Reeves was known for being a man who treated all men and women with respect. While Oyelowo turns in a tremendous, Golden Globe-nominated performance, and while veteran performers the likes of Barry Pepper, Dennis Quaid, Donald Sutherland, and newcomer Forrest Goodluck give short but captivating character portrayals, it doesn’t save Bass Reeves from being relatively one note.
6. Special Ops: Lioness
Another newer addition to Sheridan’s resume, the first season of Special Ops: Lioness seemed to have gotten the writer’s creative juices flowing again. Lioness follows Joe (Zoe Saldaña), the leader of a small group of undercover operatives known as “Lionesses” who infiltrate the lives of major players in global terror. Joe recruits a marine named Cruz (Laysla de Oliviera) to be the newest addition to the team and go deep undercover to pervade the life of Aaliyah (Stephanie Nur), a young woman whose father is a major person of interest to the American government.
de Oliviera turns in a breakthrough performance here, and plays all the tortured layers of Cruz with a deft realism. The show also features gorgeous scenic vistas from around the world, as well as blockbuster sized action pieces. With returning Sheridan favorites such as Dave Annable (Yellowstone), James Jordan (1883, Mayor of Kingstown) and LaMonica Garrett (1883), Lioness represents the creator having perhaps a little too much fun playing Marine with his troupe of actors and losing focus of the strongest aspects of the series.
1923 is the ultimate example of some storytelling floundering that even the capable Sheridan can be guilty of. Once again, Sheridan was given a massive budget to shoot around the world in exotic locations from the sweeping mountains of Montana (which was in reality Utah), to the crystal blue waters of Malta, but in a sense, that just encapsulates the shortcomings of the show. 1923 is a beautiful experience from top to bottom. The period piece features a mix of insanely attractive characters in gorgeous classic cars, donned out in the greatest costuming of any Sheridan production, but the content is sadly lacking. One saving grace is Sheridan’s story of Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves) and her harrowing journey to escape a residential school, but not every subplot is as captivating.
One specific storyline, featuring young runaway lovers Spencer (Brandan Sklenar) and Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) spans the entire season, yet absolutely nothing is accomplished. Instead, those exotic locations were the most intriguing part, as the young lovers were spread too thin with no character development, and sadly, no resolution as of yet. There were some controversial decisions that paid off, such as shelving legend Harrison Ford’s patriarch Jacob Dutton. Ford, alongside his amazing costar Helen Mirren were the major draw of the project, and with Jacob sidelined, Mirren stole the entire show, and earned a much deserved Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Cara Dutton. Season 2 promises to be the resolution so many fans have been waiting, very patiently, for gratification, but so far, the first and only season of the show offers very little.
The chronological “grandfather” of the Dutton family legend offers so much more than its ancestor, 1923. Sam Elliott carries the show with a powerful portrayal of the tragic hero Shea Brennan. Shea has been tasked to take as many families as he can across the infamous Oregon trail to a better life and prosperity, and naturally, tragedy and death follow that trail only one step behind our heroes the entire journey.
One of the families is, of course, the Duttons, with the original generation of the famed family being portrayed by real life couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. James and Margaret represent everything audiences have come to expect from the Duttons, and balance the gravitas and tenderness of the Duttons beautifully. Coupled with young star Isabel May, who plays their daughter, Elsa, the family dynamic is so captivating that audiences have no choice but to cheer for this family to succeed, (regardless of the dramatic irony of knowing that the bloodline obviously survives to become the modern day Duttons of Yellowstone).
3. Tulsa King
A departure in some respects, Tulsa King should be praised by Sheridan sycophants for attempting just that – a departure. Yes, it features the American west as many of Sheridan’s other shows do, but those who simply know Sheridan’s work from his television portfolio can often overlook one aspect of the mega-creator that made his writing Oscar-nominated – he has an amazing sense of humor. His screenplay of Hell or High Water, which earned that nomination, is such a well balanced script because of how Sheridan balances the comedy and tragedy within the story. It makes it feel more real, and this is what Tulsa King once again gives the audience.
The fish-out-of-water story featuring Mafia capo Dwight “The General” Manfredi (played by Sylvester Stallone in his first major television role) takes Dwight to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a major insult from the familia Dwight gave so much to, including a major stretch of prison time. Rather than rest on his laurels or enjoy some kind of peace and retirement, Dwight puts together an unlikely team to form a new family and begins to grow his own criminal empire. Almost all the heroes that Dwight recruits into his operation are extremely charming and likable, and it becomes very easy to cheer for their success and their survival. While Stalone’s performance may not be as noteworthy as some of the icons in Sheridan’s other shows, he does extremely well to give the cast, and the show that Stallone-brand gravitas.
2. Mayor of Kingstown
This writer will admit that there is a bit of a bias with this selection, as the real life Kingston, Ontario, Canada, a place near and dear, was the basis of this edgy crime drama. Kingstown, which Sheridan co-created alongside frequent collaborator Hugh Dillon, revolves around the economy-dominating prison of the fictional Michigan city, but its stories come from a real place – a place that might come as a surprise to those who expect Canadians to be the polite “upstairs neighbors” to America.
The real life Kingston has its share of ghosts and dark corners, and the subplots that were written into the show were actually based on real crimes that were committed North of the border. The first season of the show was certainly stronger than the second, as the sophomore effort seemed to be merely going through the motions, but it was the blending of Sheridan’s brand of grittiness and Dillon’s passion for his hometown that gives this show tremendous life. Sheridan also managed to give audiences a brilliant real family full of struggles, in-fighting, and those familiar high stakes that make his shows great.
Yellowstone, the grandfather of them all, seems like a foregone conclusion at number one. But as Sheridan’s empire grows, that grip on the top spot is loosening more and more. It may also seem like an unfair advantage that Yellowstone has had more than double the amount of seasons of any other Sheridan show, which has allowed it to grow and sprout this dynasty over four and half seasons. Fans, however, know some of the story behind that half decade, including the real life turmoil behind the scenes: drama with Kevin Costner’s contract, production delays, the strikes causing even further delays, and recently a lawsuit between Sheridan and fan-favorite Cole Hauser’s coffee company.
The love affair with the cornerstone of the Yellowstone universe may be fading, and many have noticed the quality of the shows declining over the years, especially in this tumultuous fifth season. Regardless, the sheer breadth of quality storylines gives it an advantage. And if the gods of television evened the playing field and simply allowed the same amount of seasons for every show, then Yellowstone would still come out on top. What Sheridan created in those first two seasons is nothing short of captivating. His depiction of tough-as-nails women and cutthroat cowboys coupled with his mix of contemporary issues and old west mentality is one of the most carefully crafted programs to come out in recent memory.
Hopefully Sheridan’s love for the originator can return, as Yellowstone used to be his passion project, and that passion was palpable. Now with so many shows, careful viewers can see where he’s giving his attention at any given point. Regardless of what this final season of Yellowstone may bring, however, it will always be difficult to dethrone the king.
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