Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren are fantastic actors. This is not in doubt. Their performances are bright spots throughout the pilot of this spinoff series. The problem is that despite it being big, ambitious, and mostly beautifully shot, 1923 is a hot mess. Ford and Mirren deliver great performances as is to be expected, but the plot and other elements of the film are chaotic and uneven.
Although the story is bookended quite neatly, the remaining story in between is unreliable in its execution. The performances of Ford and Mirren are shadowed by a lackluster story that feels tired. The story of ranchers, of cowboy and Indians, has been told many times and though the brutality is there in ways that are somewhat new the overarching narrative is one we already know the outcome of.
Certainly, the pilot does a great job of capturing the place, but its depiction of the people that populate is weak and generic. Even Harrison Ford's performance has a compulsory air to it that the lackluster framing gives it.
The performance of Jack Dutton, played by Darren Mann, leaves much to be desired. He's not ham-fisted in any way; he's just thoroughly uninteresting. It's an unrealized character. His potential death is just one of many character choices that the show doesn't give you a reason to care about.
Jerome Flynn is a bright spot but feels out of place. If this were a true story it would get a pass, but as a work of fiction, it is hard to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that is created when we see a man on a western-styled saddle speaking in a thick Scottish brogue. It doesn't match up with what we think of in this part of the world and this time in the world.
The music screams Yellowstone, but unlike its rival sibling, the visceral quality of the external conflict is also weak and underdeveloped. Marital drama is part and parcel what we expect, but the music reinforces the feeling that we are not surprised. We are not impressed or awed by the score, nor does the score succeed in giving the episode scope. The problem is not the show's ambition, it is its averageness of skill.
One of the more important things about creating character is to give them a reason to fight, to strive for something, to join the scrum. This it fails to do on all fronts. We just plain don't care. Everything about this show shoots for the fences, but too often the show meanders into not just camp, but rank mediocrity. This is one show that is easily forgotten despite its desire to leave scars. 1923 instead makes decidedly predictable choices, making this a conventional show that leaves our mind the moment the commercials come on or the next post on our Tik Tok feed blares out of our phone's speakers.