×

TV Review: ‘Condor’ and ‘Yellowstone,’ With Kevin Costner

The allure of genre is still with us, even as so much of what’s best on television has left it behind. Sure, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has built often-thrilling tonal lurches into its dystopian vision and “Atlanta” shares only a running time (and sometimes not even that) with its forbears in the half-hour comedy space. But for showrunners looking for a clear way to lock in viewers, the tropes and the sensibilities of well-worn storytelling forms seem, still, a good place to start, even when the audience may have moved on.

Two new dramas work concretely within two very traditional genres, with mixed results. On AT&T’s Audience Network, “Condor,” debuting June 6, takes the story of “Three Days of the Condor,” the 1975 Robert Redford thriller adapted from a novel, and adapts it into a standard-issue spy drama. And on the Paramount Network, “Yellowstone,” debuting June 20, is a Western whose feints at the modern world come sparsely. Both series show glimmers of wanting to use their genre elements to say something larger — if not about the genre itself, then about the world in which we live offscreen. But both are ultimately trapped by their own trappings, telling stories we already know.

On “Condor,” Max Irons plays Joe Turner, whose plight is as generic as his market-tested name: A CIA analyst, he’s stumbled upon a complex web of associations whose very existence is top-secret, as is their possession of a weaponized plague virus. His knowledge is enough to get the rest of his office slaughtered in front of him, but canny Joe finds a way out of the situation, stumbling towards survival and, we hope, eventually taking his tormentors on before they can do harm.

The storytelling, here, is workmanlike and efficient. But Joe’s story comes to life too infrequently: Irons has little to play but the barest contours of action-story protagonist. He’s often confused, shocked, or desperate — and he’s always ultra-competent — but we know little else about who he is. Given the nature of the story, he has very few people to play against (his coworkers, with whom he had charmingly amiable chemistry early on, are promptly dispatched), which would seem to demand a character with idiosyncracies we could grab onto. (“Homeland,” which early on transcended its genre, understood this from its first moment.) But well-established form makes its own demands.

Yellowstone” falls into a similar trap, building a story whose specifics are compelling but whose characters often fall short. In its feature-length premiere episode (the only one made available to critics), the story of the Dutton family spins out: Led by flinty patriarch John (Kevin Costner), the family is righteously protective of its corner of the Montana wild, having built it into America’s largest ranch. We’re told it’s the size of Rhode Island, and yet it’s not quite spacious enough for the egos of sons Jamie (Wes Bentley), Kayce (Luke Grimes), and Lee (Dave Annable).

The clashes between the indigenous population and the Duttons — personified by Kayce, a man more at home with horses than either the white family of his birth or the American Indian one into which he married — are fascinating stuff. Less so are brother-on-brother rivalries that feel drawn from a show with less ambition. “Yellowstone” is stunningly shot, and yet beneath its mountain vistas lies nothing new, just more squabbling.

Both shows are livened up by supporting performances, though, ones that break out of their environments and seem to be happening on other programs altogether. On “Condor,” Mira Sorvino bites off her lines with the gusto of a thespian who’s been too infrequently challenged in recent years; that she’s somewhat counterintuitive casting, with her reedy voice and giddy persona, in the role of an all-business counterterror chief makes her all the more delightful a counterpoint to the show’s dudgeon. (I weep thinking of the unusual and un-procedural line readings we lost when her role on upcoming CBS procedural “The Code” was recast.) And Brendan Fraser shows up as a quirky element of evil who’s as banal as it gets; his folksy touch, here as in “Trust,” leavens the material around him and makes it seem sparkily odd. They can’t save “Condor” from a dull leading man and a premise that’s less adapted than retreaded, but they make it much more fun. 

And on “Yellowstone,” Kelly Reilly seems transported from a different show as the sister who exists to clean up her brothers’ messes; she’s tough, sure, but also outright cruel and deeply prurient, upfront about what she wants in a way her siblings, bound by codes of masculinity, can never be. Sure, she’s a cliche in her own right, but she doesn’t quite fit into the classic Western. And the spectacle of genres colliding into one another — the boundary-bending TV can accomplish in order to keep us interested — enlivens “Yellowstone” as long as she’s onscreen. When she’s gone, it’s a Western again: Beautiful, stately, attuned with history, and just another in a long line.

“Condor”

Drama series (10 episodes, 3 watched for review): AT&T Audience Network, Weds. June 6, 10 p.m.

Credits: Executive producers: Jason Smilovic, Todd Katzberg.

Cast: Max Irons, William Hurt, Leem Lubany, Mira Sorvino, Brendan Fraser, Bob Balaban, Katherine Cunningham, Angel Bonanni, Christina Moses, Kristen Hager, Kristoffer Polaha. 

“Yellowstone”

Drama series (10 episodes, 1 watched for review): Paramount Network, Weds. June 20, 9p.m.

Credits: Executive producers: Taylor Sheridan, Kevin Costner, John Linson, Art Linson.

Cast: Kevin Costner, Wes Bentley, Luke Grimes, Kelly Reilly, Cole Hauser, Dave Annable, Danny Huston. 

TV Review: 'Condor' and 'Yellowstone,' With Kevin Costner

More TV

  • SDCC TV News Roundup: Syfy Releases

    SDCC TV News Roundup: Syfy Releases 'The Magicians' Season 5 Clip (Watch)

    In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, Syfy shares a clip from “The Magicians” Season 5, and Amazon sets the Season 4 premiere of “The Expanse.” CASTING Julie Gonzalo and Staz Nair have joined the cast of “Supergirl” for its upcoming fifth season. Gonzalo will portray iconic DC character Andrea Rojas aka Acrata, a polished businesswoman [...]

  • Doom Patrol -- Ep. 101 --

    'Doom Patrol' Renewed, Season 2 to Stream on DC Universe and HBO Max

    “Doom Patrol” has been renewed for a second season and will soon be available outside of DC Universe. At San Diego Comic-Con, series executive producer Jeremy Carver and star Diane Guerrero announced not only that the show will be back for another season but also that it will be available on HBO Max, the upcoming [...]

  • Teyonah Parris

    Teyonah Parris Cast in 'WandaVision' at Disney Plus

    “Mad Men” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” actress Teyonah Parris has been cast in Disney Plus’ “Wanda Vision” series. She will play an adult version of Monica Rambeau, a child character introduced in the film “Captain Marvel.” The announcement was made at Marvel’s Comic-Con presentation. The forthcoming Disney+ series about Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth [...]

  • Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx - NOS4A2

    'NOS4A2' Renewed for Season 2 at AMC

    AMC has renewed “NOS4A2” for a second season. The news was announced during the show’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con and ahead of the Season 1 finale. Season 2 will consist of 10 episodes and is slated to air in 2020. The series, which is based on the 2013 Joe Hill novel of the same [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    SAG-AFTRA Signs Netflix Deal With Expanded Coverage

    SAG-AFTRA and streaming giant Netflix have agreed to a new three-year contract with expanded coverage for union performers. Netflix has previously employed SAG-AFTRA members under the union’s standard master contracts for television and film and had been signing on a production by production basis. The union announced Saturday that the new deal recognizes performance capture as covered work [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show photocall,

    Cara Delevingne Says Her 'Carnival Row' Character Is Pansexual, Explains Defending Taylor Swift Against Justin Bieber

    Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom’s love affair may be at the center of the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series “Carnival Row,” but the British actress doesn’t want viewers to assume her faerie character is heterosexual. “I’m a pansexual faerie,” Delevingne told Variety during an exclusive one-on-one interview at Comic-Con adding that there are other queer [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins

    'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins 'Arrow' Final Season

    “Russian Doll” standout Charlie Barnett is joining the “Arrowverse.” Barnett, who is having a busy year having also appeared in Netflix’s “Tales of the City,” comes on board in the series regular role of John Diggle, Jr., son of David Ramsey’s character. News of his casting was announced at the show’s farewell Comic-Con panel where things [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content