Yellowstone Traded Its Season 1 Promise for Soap Opera Sensation
But critics preferred the cookie-cutter second season.
- Yellowstone is one of Paramount’s flagship shows.
- It started strongly, but the critics didn’t like it.
- Subsequent seasons ranked highly but, arguably, didn’t match up to season 1.
Season 4 of Yellowstone came in for a fair bit of stick from fans of the show for its slow pace, meh ending, and copious shots of horses spinning around. But in truth, the show took a turn for the worse in Season 2. Where Season 1 offered something new and interesting, the next installment seemed to bypass all the tension that had been built up and go for a more soap opera vibe that was (to put it lightly) something of a letdown.
What Season 1 did well
Season 1 was largely about introducing the Dutton family and its dynamics. One of the major storylines involved the tension between John (Kevin Costner) and Kayce (Luke Grimes). This was presented as a complex relationship that would be a defining feature of the show throughout its run.
Come Season 2, though, the whole thing was just glossed over. Kayce came back, everything was fine between them, and the relationship ceased to be a point of interest.
The other key feature of Season 1 was the moral dilemma facing the family when it came to protecting their ranch. Again, when Season 2 came around, they just went rogue and became more criminal than the criminals they were up against – seemingly without any real internal wrangling.
What the critics said
The critics weren't convinced. Yellowstone Season 1 has a score of 54 on Metacritic and 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. While those are more positive than negative, neither would have made for good reading for the production team.
After all, this was supposed to be a flagship show and it had a big-name cast. But for some critics, it was a bit too melodramatic and pushed the boundary of believability a step too far. But the show was, at its core, a family drama. It needed a family we could get on board with and a story about them that we could get our teeth stuck into.
Season 1 delivered that, and set it up for what could (and should) have been a family story that was to unfold over the next few seasons through twists, turns and revelations.
What happened to the show?
It went all soap opera on us. Season 1 felt fresh. It left viewers wanting more and eager to find out what the future held for the Duttons. Season 2 was a disappointment.
And yet, the critics loved it. Season 2 scored 89% on Rotten Tomatoes – with Season 3 rated 100%. Even Season 4 is rated 91%!
The strangest thing about these high scores is that they came after the show turned away from what had been good characterisation and opted instead for the sort of bland personalities we see on soap operas.
We've all seen a new character enter a soap cast with obvious characteristics, be they villainous, mysterious or eccentric, and said to ourselves, 'You'll be cookie-cutter within six weeks.' And sure enough, they all become the standard soap character.
For your average soap opera, this is understandable. The shows run several nights a week and have to constantly reinvent characters to fit the stories they have to tell. As such, sensationalism becomes necessary for them to explain the new 'version' of a character and set up their next plot line.
Yellowstone going down this path was a mistake. Season 1 gave us sufficient background interest to carry it into later seasons by developing the strained relationships further. Maybe the mixed reviews from critics put the wind up the network, who decided that mass appeal was to be preferred over the substance of the show.
Whatever the reason, for all its popularity, Yellowstone has failed to deliver on its Season 1 promise.