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Ranching hits prime time

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattle Published on 03 December 2020

About this time every year, Craig and I decide it’s time to find ourselves something new to watch. From November through March, we find time for TV. It’s dark-dark by 6 p.m., the kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m., the wood stove is burning and the TV is on. Last winter, we watched all six seasons of Longmire. Craig loved it enough to put up with my commentary, and I liked it enough to keep watching. This year, we started watching Yellowstone, per the recommendation of Amazon Prime.

By now, even if you haven’t watched Yellowstone, and even if you don’t have any intention of watching Yellowstone, you’ve probably heard of it. Kevin Costner stars as John Dutton, an old-school rancher and politician determined to keep the West wild and his family’s ranch intact. By the second episode, I started calling it “Dysfunctional family on a ranch.”

The only character I have any sympathy with is Jamie Dutton, son of John, ranch attorney and wannabe attorney general. Despite his profession, three-piece suits and slicked-back hair, he is the only character that is a somewhat-decent human being. The rest are savage – half need to be evaluated by a mental health expert, and the other half belong in prison. It’s a train wreck, and you can’t look away.

It’s not just the utterly terrible humans staring on the show; I take personal offense as a rancher with nearly every episode. I keep almost turning it off. In the first episode, there is a scene where John Dutton and one of his sons pull a calf. They rope the cow and do quick work of getting the calf out. The camera pans over to John and his son, then back to the newborn calf running and bucking away in the pasture. Right. In another episode, daughter Beth describes a mega money-making scheme of putting millions of acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). That’s not how that works. Then, in my favorite episode, a gangster-turned-wrangler, Jimmy, appears to be using an electro-ejaculator on cows while the vet stands by with her 18-wheeler vet rig in the background. I won’t ruin the next part, but it is equally incredible.

I keep thinking, “Millions of people are watching, and they think this is ranching.” Yellowstone – Dysfunctional family on a ranch – is their window into the cattle business. Fan-freaking-tastic. This must be how doctors feel during every episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Now, the show isn’t all bad. The scenery is incredible. The story is set in Montana, but it is filmed mostly in northern Utah. It looks and feels like home. And, the film lover in me argues that Kevin Costner doesn’t do bad movies. But, I guess I’ve never watched any of his movies with such personal knowledge of what his character should be.

So, do I recommend Yellowstone? Ha, don’t ask me to answer that, but for what it is worth, I am halfway through season two. I argue that I am watching it for 1) the entertainment value, 2) the ability to argue with all my non-rancher friends about how it’s not real ranching and 3) the camaraderie I feel from all of you when I moan that Yellowstone isn’t real ranching.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.