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The burgeoning Yellowstone universe has developed a fairly distinct formula, starting with an older movie star espousing square-jawed western values, surrounding them with a younger cast and soap opera imagery. With Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, 1923 takes the star quality to the next level, putting a brilliant bow on a fairly basic package.

Prolific writer-producer Taylor Sheridan literally opens the Paramount+ series by framing this chapter in the Dutton family saga, joining the even earlier prequel 1883, which says: “Violence has always haunted this family. … And where it doesn’t follow, we catch it. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Ford patriarch Jacob Dutton isn’t looking for trouble, but he still seems destined to find it, running a Montana cattle ranch a few years after World War I and during Prohibition, a time when cowboys ride horses into town and tie up. them next to parked cars.

However, Dutton has a problem with locusts that have ravaged the pastures, and cattle and sheep ranchers are scrambling for what’s left. If war breaks out, the main culprit will be a bad-tempered sheep owner (Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn) who doesn’t respect Dutton’s fences and doesn’t welcome suggestions that he sell some of his flock.

Meanwhile, back home, Dutton’s wife Cara, an Irish immigrant who allows Mirren to rock that accent, presides over a ranch that includes a school for a young woman who, when it comes to priorities, cattle takes precedence over her wedding plans.

“You have to want more than a guy,” Cara explains. “You have to want life too.”

More than 1883, 1923 represents an intriguing time, with postwar economics, the recent memory of the epidemic, and the looming prospect of the Depression a few years down the road all adding to the intrigue as touches of modernity collide. with cowboy values.

However, as with other Sheridan shows, while the pioneering spirit can be exciting, the run differs in terms of peripheral players and distractions. Here, they include an out-of-left-field subplot involving Dutton scion Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), who spends his post-war years hunting in Africa; and a young Native American girl (Amina Nieves) who is bullied at a Catholic school.

To say the series could have benefited from a more focused approach ignores the way Sheridan has built his shows, populating Paramount’s mountain with the grim “Mayor of Kingstown” and more recently “Tulsa King.” The multi-faceted storytelling serves as an added bonus, easing the burden on its veteran stars, who deliver grimness without needing to appear in every scene. (Tokun Ford will wear a different hat in the next Indiana Jones sequel, but his gruff character is actually reminiscent of his supporting role in Cowboys and Aliens.)

Yellowstone’s popularity, frankly, seems to be somewhat unlucky in its humble charm, and Paramount’s and Sheridan’s willingness to actively mine that fertile vein will ultimately lead to diminishing returns.

By landing Ford and Mirren, 1923 has already hit the bullseye from a promotional standpoint. And even if not all subplots click, it’s a combination that should keep them on the farm for a while.

1923 premieres December 18 on Paramount+ in the US and Canada, and December 19 in the UK and Australia.

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