(CNN)Once a primetime staple, westerns are currently few and far between. AMC seeks to rectify that, awkwardly, with its new show "The Son," an adaptation of Philipp Meyer's bestselling novel that feels like a one-trick pony -- most notable for a slightly miscast Pierce Brosnan riding back onto TV in the central role.
Pierce Brosnan can't stir up AMC western 'The Son'
A replacement for Sam Neill, who dropped out of the project, Brosnan plays Eli McCullough, the grizzled patriarch of a grand Texas family in 1915. "The era of the cattle baron is over," he tells his granddaughter, a point reinforced by the rickety, new-fangled cars in which they slowly motor around.
"The Son" oscillates between two timeframes, beginning with Eli's abduction by the Comanche as a teenager in 1849. (Yes, do the math, and Brosnan, who looks plenty good for a guy in his early 60s, is distractingly supposed to be nearly 80.)
The young Eli is subjected to all manner of abuse, but also taken under the wing of an older warrior ("Fargo's" Zahn McClarnon), who somewhat cryptically teaches him the ways of survival. How he wound up back in the white man's world remains a mystery through the episodes available for preview, but the underlying point is clearly that the skills Eli mastered during that ordeal prepared and informed him for the challenges of the present, which include tensions along the Mexican border.
The main problem is that very little of what happens during the 20th-century sequences proves especially interesting, beginning with the rather nondescript assortment of family members, neighbors and friends that surround Eli. If this is supposed to be a big "Dallas"-style epic filled with family intrigue and hoisted petticoats, it's as if they conjured a slightly wizened J.R. but nobody else of much note.
Brosnan does what he can in these limited circumstances, playing Eli as a charismatic salesman with a flinty side, someone who doles out Southern charm until crossed. Ultimately, though, "The Son" remains more intriguing during its flashbacks, even if those scenes feel derivative to anyone weaned on white-man-among-the-Native-Americans westerns like "Little Big Man" or "A Man Called Horse."
Kicking off with a two-hour premiere, AMC has scheduled the show for Saturday nights, where the network has enjoyed modest success (principally with older audiences) playing old westerns and the original series "Hell on Wheels."
Like a lot of novels brought to the screen, "The Son" might have looked better on paper. Because even with the one-time 007 in its quiver, there's not much here that's particularly stirring.
"The Son" premieres April 8 at 9 p.m. on AMC.