You might remember cowboys.
They used to be big in the movies. And on TV. And, perhaps, in our daydreams.
“Bonanza” ran 14 seasons; “Gunsmoke” ran 20, a record for a drama. In the fall of 1959, the three networks had 23 cowboy shows, from Bret Maverick and Bat Masterson to “Have Gun, Will Travel.”
And now? There are just two major ones, both confined to cable, and they’re at turning points:
— “The Son” has its final episode Saturday.
— “Yellowstone” recently opened its second season with – by cable standards, anyway – strong ratings. Once you count everything (other networks for the opener, plus reruns), you have almost four million viewers. That’s tiny by the old standards. (One year, “Gunsmoke” averaged 43 percent of all homes with TV’s; today, that would be 50 million homes.) But the Paramount Network seems happy.
— Indeed, Paramount has already renewed it for next season and has ordered a reality show from the same producer. “The Last Cowboy” will follow people in the world of professional reining … and will create a three-day, $1 million Las Vegas event for its conclusion.
But what about people who think all westerns are the same? Right now, they’re sort of right.
The two current shows are set a century apart — “Yellowstone” nowadays, “Son” based in 1916, but flashing back and forward – yet sometimes seem like twins.
Both are topped by movie stars – Kevin Costner, 64, in “Yellowstone,” Pierce Brosnan, 66, in “Son.”
Each star plays the unbending owner of a mega-ranch. Each has two sons – one is a lawyer who wears suits, the other is a rebel who wears boots … and has a cross-cultural romance.
(In “Yellowstone,” Kayce prefers to be with his wife and son on her reservation. In “Son,” Pete — Henry Garrett, shown here with Brosnan — remains obsessed with Maria Garcia, whose family was killed when his father roared in to seize their land.)
One slight difference: “Yellowstone” also has a daughter, scheming with developers who want chunks of her dad’s empire; “Son” has a granddaughter, who’s been transforming.
In flashforwards, Jeanne Anne McCullough (played by Lois Smith, 88) is a matriarch, solemn and lonely. In the main (1916) portions, she’s teen Jeannie and seemed pleasant enough – until last week.
That’s when her grandfather Eli told her that she – not her brothers – will inherit control. She instantly told on her father, who planned to leave and testify against the family in court.
In short, this kid has inherited her grandpa’s cold-eyed pragmatism. That shapes the finale, which bounces between three stories – young Eli, who grew up among the Commanche … old Eli in 1916 … and, much later, old Jeanne Anne.
Each story is resolved forcefully (and, sometimes, violently), while staying true to these complex characters. Yes, we hate to see the number of major cowboy shows cut in half. But if “The Son” must depart, at least it does it well.
— “The Son” series finale, 9 p.m. Saturday (June 29), AMC, rerunning at 10:05 p.m. and 4:45 a.m., then at 9:25 a.m. Wednesday, July 3.
— “Yellowstone,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Paramount, rerunning at 1 a.m., but no episode July 3