In the first few minutes of the first episode of the new “Yellowstone” prequel “1923,” a mother kills her ornery son at close range with a shotgun, a lion is shot to death on an African savannah, and dozens of dead cattle are seen in extreme closeup lying on their sides and covered in flies and other scavenging insects.
These vignettes serve as an introduction to this new series that started streaming this past weekend on Paramount+.
It is easy to form the impression from these scenes of mass cattle death and murder -- both human and animal -- that life in the American West in 1923 was grim indeed.
Or at the very least, this is how creator/producer/writer Taylor Sheridan intends to portray the era and the region.
The new series is a prequel to “Yellowstone” and a sequel to “1883,” which was the first prequel to “Yellowstone.”
“Yellowstone” is the enormously popular soap-opera western series starring Kevin Costner as the rough-tough patriarch of a Montana ranching dynasty named Dutton.
The show has become a top attraction for Paramount+ and the Paramount cable network on which it got its start.
In its wake, Paramount Global (formerly Viacom) has rolled out the red carpet for Taylor Sheridan. The “Yellowstone” sequels are all his, including another one rumored to be on the way.
He also created “Mayor of Kingstown” and the more recent “Tulsa King” for Paramount. For the record, the TV Blog did not care for “Yellowstone” or “Mayor of Kingstown” when they premiered. By contrast, “Tulsa King,” starring Sylvester Stallone, got a rave review here.
Despite the opinions expressed here, many shows go on to fame and fortune, which is what happened to “Yellowstone.”
The series started with a top movie star (Costner) and as a result of its success, now seems capable of drawing leading men and women of the same general caliber.
Most notably, Harrison Ford, 80 (pictured above), and Helen Mirren, 77, star as patriarch and matriarch of the Dutton family empire in “1923.”
Mirren is the mother who commits filicide in the series’ opening moments, but it seems fair to mention that when it came to the final, parting shot she delivered to her prostrate son, it was in self-defense since he would have shot her first.
Clearly, “1923” is a saga about family, whether murdering each other or joining together to maintain cattle and kin against great odds.
After getting this flashback scene of a mother-son murder out of the way, the show switches to 1923, where the past collides with the present on the main street of a small but growing western town.
Indeed, as Harrison Ford ambles into town on horseback with his cohorts, it is clear that automobiles are well on their way to replacing equine transportation.
Protesters are seen demanding prohibition, and a group of angry sheep farmers are heading to a hearing in which they will demand grazing rights on land that just happens to be owned by the cattlemen.
This is to be one of the principal conflicts in “1923.” The cattlemen and the sheep herders are at odds over grass. The shepherds want their sheep to graze anywhere they want to, regardless of land ownership. Naturally, the cattlemen would rather they not do this.
The problem is a grass shortage afflicting them both. It seems a plague of locusts recently descended on the Montana plain and decimated the grasslands that sustain both bovine and ovine alike.
It is a story as old as motion pictures -- rancher vs. shepherd, rancher vs. farmer, rancher vs. homesteader, rancher vs. everybody.
When you get right down to it, it’s the ranchers who are the common denominator in these Hollywood Old West range-war stories.
Perhaps the problem is that most Americans prefer steak to lamb.
Or to put it another way, Dutton wants nuttin’ to do with mutton.
“1923” is now streaming on Paramount+.