Taylor Sheridan’s remarkable “Yellowstone” series continues to delight audiences with its gritty western tropes, fearless characters, and delectable storytelling. What started as a reasonably straightforward saga about a man struggling to keep his vast Montana property has morphed into a full-fledged universe shared by spinoffs “1883” and “1923,” respectively, with more on the way. Each entry deepens the Dutton family lore and forms a remarkable portrait of an imperfect family forever bound to a magnificent piece of land by blood.
Still, for all of its ambition, “Yellowstone” is an incredibly bumpy ride filled with magnificent highs and head-scratching lows. Sheridan occasionally leans too hard into cartoonish violence and contrived plot points to settle pivotal character arcs. In his quest to deliver binge-worthy entertainment, he sometimes loses sight of the bigger picture. No iteration of “Yellowstone” is terrible, but some seasons/shows are significantly better than others. Read on to view every “Yellowstone” season (plus “1883” and “1923”) ranked worst to best!
7. Yellowstone – Season 5
This ranking isn’t entirely fair as we’re still only halfway through Season 5 of “Yellowstone.” Yet, the first eight episodes leave a lot to be desired because, well, nothing happens. John (Kevin Costner) commences his term as governor, Beth (Kelly Reilly) does Beth things, Kayce (Luke Grimes) and Monica (Kelsey Asbille) deal with their latest tragedy, and Jamie (Wes Bentley) jumps into bed with Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri), the show’s latest villain. But it’s more of the same, and it feels like Taylor Sheridan needs more — and fresher — ways to keep the Dutton clan interesting.
That’s not to say the season doesn’t have moments. A subplot involving Colby (Denim Richards), Ryan (Ian Bohen), and a pack of wolves piques interest, and Rip (Cole Hauser) and Beth’s deliciously campy relationship provides plenty of perverse fun. Unfortunately, supporting characters such as Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) get little to do. Meanwhile, story beats featuring Piper Perabo’s insufferable Summer Higgins and Josh Lucas’s younger John distract more than captivate.
Thankfully, the midseason finale cooked up some juicy melodrama. Jamie finally unleashes his attack on John and Beth, and Kayce and Monica decide to take John up on his offer to move back to the ranch. Information regarding those pesky wolves surfaces to give John something else to worry about. Time will tell if the latest season delivers the goods, but it ra” nks at the bottom of the pile for now due to a lack of forward momentum.
6. Yellowstone – Season 1
The first season of “Yellowstone” gives us our initial view of the Duttons’ violent world, but the nine episodes feel far too ridiculous to take seriously. Every chapter features over-the-top melodrama that induces more eye rolls than gasps, resulting in a bleak affair that mainly works thanks to solid performances from its stars.
Costner, in particular, slides into the role of John Dutton with ease and he effortlessly portrays a grizzled man struggling to reconnect the pieces of his shattered family. When Sheridan focuses on the Duttons and their ongoing struggle with the local government and greedy business people seeking to seize their property, Season 1 hits the mark. Too bad such instances occur between outlandish scenes of violence ripped straight out of a soap opera.
At one point, Kayce and Monica drive along a road in the middle of nowhere when a nearby building/meth lab randomly explodes. Later, Rip watches a pair of tourists die before shooting a wild bear. Then, when an officer from Fish & Game arrives to investigate the incident, a horse chucks her into a metal bar. Not enough? Monica gets knocked into a coma during a school brawl, John blows up a mountain to reroute a river from his rivals, Evelyn Dutton (Gretchen Mol) falls off her horse and dies, Lee Dutton (Dave Annable) is shot and killed, and Kayce murders a couple of men molesting a young girl.
Thankfully, the show gets better from here, but Season 1 is rough, folks.
5. 1923 – Season 1
Competent is the word I’d use to describe “the freshman season of “1923.” No great, not bad, but competent. Most readers know that the story centers around Jacob and Cara Dutton (Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) in the early 1920s and focuses on their attempts to keep rivals from seizing their land. You know, kinda like “Yellowstone.”
Really, that’s the show’s biggest weakness: it’s neither new nor original. The acting is top-notch, however, and several storylines, notably Spencer’s (Brandon Sklenar) and Alexandra’s (Julia Schlaepfer) attempt to get to America, are beautifully handled. We also get a thrilling side quest detailing the rise of the Rainwaters via Aminah Nieves’ rebellious Teonna. If the series had arrived before “Yellowstone,” “1923” would be seen as a unique piece of popcorn entertainment. Alas, as a prequel, the show too often feels redundant. However, it boasts a few surprises. The intrigue primarily lies in seeing how the plot threads collide with the present Dutton saga.
Now, the table is set for an exciting Season 2, and since it took “Yellowstone” a while to find its footing, we’re willing to give “1923” the benefit of the doubt. But, as is, it’s a handsome production that should satisfy fans of Sheridan’s western franchise, even if it doesn’t exactly blaze a trail into uncharted territory.
4. Yellowstone – Season 4
Topping the wild events of Season 3 would always be difficult, but Season 4 gets the job done with a couple of fun twists along the way.
On a negative note, Kayce and Monica continue to disappoint. The former has yet to emerge as the hero we deserve, and the latter spends far too much time making life complicated for everyone. Kayce/Monica should be our power couple, yet their storylines remain embroiled in endless tragedy, making them more irritating than likable. The ramifications of the surprise attack on the Duttons are also surprisingly minuscule. Everyone, including the “Bunkhouse Gang,” returns to normal quickly when many should suffer PTSD from such a traumatic event. Also, in one of the more unintentionally funny bits of the show, Rip murders Season 3 villain Roarke Morris (Josh Holloway) by tossing a rattlesnake in his face — a far too simplistic ending for such a magnetic character.
Season 4 does introduce Finn Little as the ever-likable Carter (watch him school the Bunkhouse game at cards), gives us the long-awaited Rip/Beth wedding, and justifiably tosses Jamie into the grinder like a piece of rotten meat. Other engaging subplots include Jimmy’s (Jefferson White) adventures at the 6666 Ranch, Lloyd (Forrie J. Smith) and Walker’s (Ryan Bingham) bitter (and violent) feud over Laramie (Hassie Harrison), and John’s decision to take on the role of governor.
Overall, there’s plenty to love in Season 4, just not enough to warrant a higher position on the list.
Raw, violent, and unforgettable, “1883” is a powerful tale of a family’s attempts to survive a brutal and dangerous world. It features a fantastic cast led by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Isabel May, and the always-reliable Sam Elliott, among others. Ostensibly playing out like an R-rated take on the 90s video game “The Oregon Trail,” replete with bandit attacks, snake bites, and lots of death, disease, and suicide, “1883” presents a realistic view of the rugged frontier; its dangers and hardships.
The show’s sluggish pace and emphasis on drama over action may put some viewers off. Fans who endure the challenging experience, however, will relish a finale that neatly ties into the “Yellowstone” legacy and deepens the modern-day Dutton conflict.
Surprises abound, including special appearances from Tom Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, and Graham Greene. Yet, the heart of the story lies with Shea Brennan (Elliott), James Dutton (McGraw), and their relationship with plucky rebellious teen Elsa (May). That it all ends in tragedy is part of the “Yellowstone” experience. Still, the journey is remarkable enough for fans and newbies of Sheridan’s ambitious series to enjoy in between trips to the Dutton Ranch. The only negative, and the reason “1883” doesn’t top the list, is that the series abruptly ends after one season.
2. Yellowstone – Season 2
“Yellowstone” settled down in its sophomore session and offered viewers a more nuanced glance at the Dutton conflict. While outlandish action remains, the focus on character development and intricate drama balances the wackiness, producing a far more satisfying tale.
In Season 2, the Duttons square off against the Beck Brothers (Neal McDonough and Terry Serpico), a couple of no-good creeps whose aggressive acts escalate at an alarming rate. Indeed, the turning point arrives when a group of men working for the Becks viciously attack Beth. Later, the dastardly villains kidnap Tate out of desperation, drawing the ire of Kayce, who dishes out hellish retribution alongside his father. It’s all pretty great, if a tad overblown.
This season likewise puts Rip through absolute hell as he must prove his loyalty to John by bending the knee to Kayce. Jamie, meanwhile, murders a nosy reporter, crawls back to his family, and ends up working in the stables alongside the Bunkhouse Gang. Even Monica has more to do this go-round as she debates whether to join the Dutton family’s deadly business.
Overall, this is a rip-roaring season with plenty to appreciate, though some plot points never fully develop and it sucks to see Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) go out in such a lackluster way. Season 2 nevertheless gives fans everything they could ask for and then some.
1. Yellowstone – Season 3
Season 1 went full-on bonkers, Season 2 took deeper breaths between the crazy hijinks, but Season 3 is where “Yellowstone” peaked. Striking the perfect balance between intimate character drama and gritty western, our third sojourn with the Duttons spends a reasonable amount of time letting us actually, well, get to know the Duttons. We follow the group on a camping trip that snaps Tate (Brecken Merrill) out of his shellshock following his kidnapping in the previous season and helps mend Kayce and Monica’s fractured relationship. Many viewers may criticize the deliberate pace, but “Yellowstone” works best when it focuses on everyday problems rather than manufactured drama.
Here, enemies attack the Duttons from all sides, and our heroes(?) strike back uniquely. When mysterious businessman Roarke arrives and threatens Beth, she responds by hitting his stocks. To deal with the headache created by his battle with the Becks, John resigns as Livestock Commissioner and appoints Jamie in his stead. Kayce gets in on the action as a livestock officer, a role that gives him authority to subdue family enemies. Past problems come to light, including Beth’s hatred of Jamie, which only add to the tension. Eventually, the action arrives, and it’s sensational in the best way.
Season 3 deftly handles its characters and builds toward an explosive finale that transforms “Yellowstone” into an engaging tale about the world’s most dysfunctional family. Except, this time, we care about everyone — and that’s really saying something.