What We're Watching This Summer: 'Cloak & Dagger,' 'Yellowstone, 'Dietland'
Westworld season two has ended, The Walking Dead shows are on hiatus, and even Netflix seems to be slowing the pace of releases, although there are certainly still a lot of options out there, like Hannah Gadbsy’s brilliant stand-up special, the best romcom in a while in Set It Up, the return of Luke Cage, weekly episodes of Michelle Wolf, and the release of G.L.O.W. this weekend.
Basic cable, however, still has a smattering of solid offerings, too. Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone, for instance, debuted last week on the Paramount Network and received a whopping 5 million viewers, becoming ad-supported cable’s most-watched scripted drama series premiere since The People vs O.J. Simpson. It’s also quite good, though the movie-length runtime of the premiere may discourage some folks.
Yellowstone comes from Taylor Sheridan, and if you’re a fan of Sheridan (Wind River, Hell or High Water, Sicario), this should be right up your alley. Costner is such a natural fit for Sheridan’s work that it’s hard to believe it took this long for the two to connect. The series itself seems to combine some of the themes from Sheridan’s Wind River with Costner’s Hatfields & McCoys and, I dunno, Dallas?
Costner stars as John Dutton, the owner of a 30,000-acre ranch in Montana being encroached upon by land developers and a Native-American reservation. He also has four grown children whose interests intersect and diverge with those of Dutton. Wes Bentley plays Jamie Dutton, a lawyer eager to win his father’s affection despite not being the rancher type. Kelly Reilly plays Beth Dutton, who apparently inherited all the toxic masculinity in the family: She’s a CEO type who just wants to bust balls, both literally and figuratively (she’s great). Dave Annable plays the good son, a guy who just wants to work the ranch and stare at the sunset; and Luke Grimes plays the wild-card, Cory Dutton. He’s married to a Native-American woman and lives on the reservation with her. His relationship with his father is strained, but things come to a head when the Dutton Family gets into a violent confrontation with members of the reservation over some cattle that roamed off Dutton’s land and onto the reservation.
The confrontation results in three deaths, and it’s here where Yellowstone is most interesting. The tribe had been led by a more “civil” guy who had gotten along with Dutton, but Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) takes over, and he plans to use money from his casino and political power he wields with a Montana Senator (Jill Hennessy) to buy back all the land that was stolen from his people by the government. He actually orchestrates the violence to win sympathy, although, in the early goings of the series, he’s seen as something of a Machiavellian type while Sheridan shifts our sympathies toward Kevin Costner’s character. Knowing Sheridan as I do, however, he’s all about maintaining a “certain way of life,” and that is true for both the Native Americans and the ranchers, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out (in all likelihood, the wealthy land developers will be seen as an evil to both groups, though the daughter, Beth, seems to represent their interests).
It’s a lot of pushing and pulling, narratively speaking, but the cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is great, and while the characters still fit into neat little archetypes, that’s likely to change over the course of the season as it evolves. The pilot is compelling enough, however, and I trust Sheridan to maintain a gripping but relatively slow burn until all these forces converge. (On a scale of 1-10, I give Yellowstone a 7, so far.)
Meanwhile, over on AMC, Dietland is near the midpoint of its season. It sees Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) work as a ghostwriter for a fashion magazine editor, Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies, at her most deliciously evil). Plum, who struggles with her self-image, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, so to speak, with a cult-like outfit that is less interested in helping Plum lose weight and more interested in improving her self-esteem (I think; their motivations aren’t entirely clear). Meanwhile, there is also an organization called Jennifer that has taken #MeToo to the next level: They’re brutally murdering high-profile rapists and misogynists and dropping them out of planes or off of overpasses.
It took a few episodes for Dietland to get going, but even before it gained a head of steam, Joy Nash was so goddamn good in this that she managed to maintain my interest in her character even when I wasn’t that interested in the story. That, however, has changed as the storytelling has hit a stride, and after this week’s episode, I find myself fully immersed. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone else is watching, and a show that is very much “of the moment” is being largely ignored. (Score: 7.5 out of 10)
The best thing on this summer, however, is Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger. It is perfect summer television, the kind of show that’s fun, gripping, and insanely binge-worthy. I know nothing about the comics upon which it is based, but the series takes a kind of YA-approach to storytelling. It sees two people from very different backgrounds — Dagger (Olivia Holt), a white teenage thief who lives part-time on the street and part-time with her alcoholic mother, and Cloak (Aubrey Joseph), a black guy from a well-to-do family — pulled together by opposing superpowers mysteriously given to them on the same night that Cloak’s brother and Dagger’s father were killed after the explosion of a power plant. The series is taking its sweet time teasing out the origins story (to its benefit) and keeping Cloak and Dagger mostly apart until the mystery surrounding the power plant explosion and the cop-shooting death of Cloak’s brother a decade ago eventually brings them together.
Cloak & Dagger is exactly what so many of us have been desperate for: A small-stakes superhero character drama that also subverts stereotypes, although it’s a stretch to call them “superheroes” — they’re just teenagers with powers that they don’t understand nor can they control. It reminds me of Hulu’s Runaways (which I liked), only much better and far more entertaining to watch. It’s maybe the only show on right now that I genuinely look forward to watching each week. (Score: 8.5 out of 10) Episode 5 airs tomorrow night, and it’s a good time to catch up with what should be a very rewarding binge.