1923 is all possibility but little is tangible yet

1923 (Paramount+)

Taylor Sheridan’s newest chapter in the Yellowstone franchise has plenty on its mind and plate, but its too early to say if it’ll all work.


It’s almost difficult to imagine as much happened in one day of the year 1923 as happens in one episode of the television series 1923, the newest installment of the multigenerational Dutton saga from Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone and 1883 series. And if as much happened in 1923’s premiere episode occurred every day of the year 1923, what a truly exhausting year that would’ve been.

The (semi-)good news is that television isn’t real life. Thus, 1923’s overstuffed series debut is more thrilling than exhausting. Three or four more episodes paced and scattered like this, though, and that’ll change. At that rate, the show will likely leave viewers feeling rode hard and put away wet.

Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) is the great-great (or perhaps great-great-great) grand-uncle of Kevin Costner’s John Dutton III in Yellowstone and brother to Tim McGraw’s James from 1883. He and his wife Cara (Helen Mirren) have held the considerable amount of land James journeyed to acquire in 1883. Keeping the land—and the cattle they’ve populated it with—is no easy task. Nonetheless, it has still sparked the resentment of people like Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn). He sees the Duttons as having more than they need while Creighton and his allies are barely scraping by.

1923 (Paramount+)
Helen Mirren curses the heavens. (Paramount+/Emerson Miller)

It’s that controversial land that’s sending the Dutton men, including eldest nephew John Sr. (James Badge Dale), into the mountains. It’s also upsetting Elizabeth Strafford (Michelle Randolph). She’s set to marry Jack (Darren Mann), one of Jacob and Cara’s several grand nephews. However, that needs to be put on hold until after the herding.

Meanwhile, John Sr.’s brother Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) is bouncing around Africa. He’s attempting to evade his World War I-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by killing big cats to keep wealthy tourists safe. His latest charge is a jaguar who may be the first prey to outthink Spencer.

A third storyline—so far unrelated, but, of course, unlikely to stay that way—concerns Teonna (Aminah Nieves). She’s a Native American teen forced into a brutal school. It amounts to little more than a re-education camp designed to strip Indigenous people of their culture. There she has to tangle with Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle)–a cruel nun who seems especially dedicated to breaking Teonna. Perhap worse is Father Renaud (Sebastian Roché), a priest who treats both the young women and the nuns of the school as equally worthy of violent punishment for their errors.

By episode’s end…everything has been chiefly table setting.

This latter storyline intrigues the most in the first episode, and not just because of how distinct it seems from the trials and tribulations of the Duttons. Nieves turns in an excellent performance. Meanwhile, Ehle and Roché make her antagonists both thoroughly frightening and seemingly inescapable. Additionally, Sheridan’s own checkered history with portraying Native Americans onscreen, particularly in Wind River, brings anxiety into the scenes. Can he handle this shameful aspect of American history with thoughtfulness and tact? Can he do that while making Teonna and the other Indigenous characters feel three-dimensional?

The other two storylines are not without their intriguing aspects either. Ford and Mirren have strong chemistry. It’s the kind that suggests they’ve been married for decades and still retain a degree of passion for each other. Ford has often come in for criticism in his later years for perhaps not loving acting or giving it his all, but he seems engaged here. In addition, there’s a wry sense of humor to his performance that gives his eyes a bit more shine than usual. Interestingly, the only moment he seems off his game is where he usually excels: talking tough to some varmints.

1923 (Paramount+)
Jennifer Ehle and Aminah Nieves do not see eye to eye. (Paramount+/Emerson Miller)

Sklenar’s storyline seems the least essential and the vaguest in terms of direction. Still, Sklenar puts some life into a character that’s mostly a clichéd cipher so far. His scene with Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), a married tourist who still enjoys a good flirt, is quite fun.

By episode’s end, however, everything has been chiefly table setting. Even if it is pretty table setting thanks to frequent Sheridan collaborator Ben Richardson’s direction, that still leaves the viewer a bit adrift. Twin cliffhangers hint that the series may have a fairly different status quo than most of the prior 45 or so minutes suggested. Still, one could easily see both situations resolving without much upheaval. Those plus questions like “will James Badge Dale get something to do worthy of his talent with this role?” make it hard to entirely celebrate this new series debut.

On the other hand, it isn’t enough to write off 1923 either. Strong performances and intriguing plot threads may not end up paying off, but they’re more than enough to earn this series a returning audience for the second episode. 

1923 starts riding the open range on Paramount+ December 18.

1923 Trailer:

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens is a freelance writer and therapist from the Nutmeg State, hailing from the home of the World’s Smallest Natural Waterfall. In addition to The Spool, you can read his stuff in CC Magazine, Marvel.com, ComicsVerse, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. And yes, he is listing all this to try and impress you.

  1. Why can Paramount continue 1923 on regular paramount channels that we can enjoy watching the 1923 til the end like Yellowstone extend of Paramount Plus? Because senior citizens can’t afford to pay extra for Paramount Plus, it’s really not fair to us senior citizens who really enjoy the show.not be able to finish watch it even though it says free month, if we get free month on that, then still Paramount Plus would still charge us for it. Not fair. We really enjoy Yellowstone, it got great high ratings and 1923 can get great high ratings on regular Paramount channel.

  2. Pingback:Shrinking Review: Jason Segel gives good broken man - The Spool

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