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Hitch your wagon to some classic Westerns
1883, visionary producer Taylor Sheridan's first expansion of his Yellowstone universe (there are many more spin-offs to come), revitalized the Western TV genre thanks to its cinematic sweep and memorable performances from stars Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, and Isabel May. It earned two Emmy nominations, for cinematography and music composition. It's been so successful that it's getting a spin-off of its own, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story, which is set to star David Oyelowo as the legendary lawman, the first Black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi. It's also getting a semi-sequel in the form of 1923, which stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren and will catch up with the Dutton clan on the ranch 40 years later.
But it'll be a while before those shows get rolling. In the meantime, we've put together a list of Westerns set in the days of the Wild West to help you get your fix for more 1883. Some of these are classics, and some are contemporary shows trying to capitalize on the Yellowstone franchise's success. Load up your wagon and hit the trail with these shows. And if you're looking for shows like Yellowstone, we have that list, too.
Billy the Kid reimagines the legend of William H. Bonney, the infamous outlaw from the American Old West, with a gentler touch (i.e., it rationalizes his murderin' and robbin'). This Billy, played by English inevitable breakout actor Tom Blyth (who just landed a major role in the next Hunger Games film), is an orphan who was formed by hardships moving west and was a supporter of the marginalized working class in the late 1870s, just a few years before 1883. And like 1883, it's about trying to plant roots and long covered wagon trips in harsh environments populated by harsh men. The series was created by Vikings' Michael Hirst, who gets to drop more curse words on a premium cable channel, but its deliberate pace is more for those who are in love with the time and setting. -Tim Surette
1883 is Taylor Sheridan's own version of Lonesome Dove. Sheridan said as much in an interview with the New York Times, where he cited the 1989 limited series as a formative influence. And Lonesome Dove is a good piece of culture to emulate, as it was a massive ratings hit that revitalized the TV Western genre and remains a high-water mark of '80s television. Based on a Pulitzer-winning novel by Larry McMurtry, the epic four-part limited series follows a cattle drive from Texas to Montana led by Gus McRae (Robert Duvall) and Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones), former Texas Rangers who decide to leave their dusty border town for a new adventure. 1883 is indebted to Lonesome Dove in every conceivable way, from its plot to its characters to the way it's shot. It's what Lonesome Dove would have been if it could have had profanity and bloody violence. They're both romantic but authentically gritty depictions of life in the Old West.
Tracing the history back even further, Wagon Train begat Lonesome Dove the same way Lonesome Dove begat 1883. The original TV wagon train Western was a tremendously successful show that ran for 8 seasons and almost 300 episodes from 1957 to 1965. Every episode tells a story about a different traveler on trail boss Seth Adams' (Ward Bond) wagon train traveling from Missouri to California. Adams, like 1883's Shea Brennan, is a tough but fair Union Army veteran who runs a tight ship and does whatever he can to make sure everyone in his party makes it to their destination safely, whether they like how gruffly he talks to them or not. 1883 got its fascination with the mechanics of Old West survival from Wagon Train, as well as its love of celebrity guest stars — Ronald Reagan famously made one of his last acting appearances before entering politics on the show in 1963. Wagon Train remains a tremendously watchable show, with classic, elegantly simple Western stories about flawed characters finding redemption at the end of the hour.
Before Kevin Costner became John Dutton, he dipped his toe into the world of television with Hatfields & McCoys, winning the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his efforts. The hit three-episode limited series aired on History in 2012 and tells the story of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, two prominent pioneer families in 1800s Appalachia. Costner plays Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the more affluent of the two warring clans, while Bill Paxton plays McCoy leader Randall McCoy. Tom Berenger, who also won an Emmy for his performance, plays Hatfield's uncle Jim Vance, the man who's credited with starting the feud by killing Asa Harmon McCoy in cold blood. Like 1883, Hatfields & McCoys is a violent, thematically rich Western with exquisite period detail.
Without a doubt the greatest Western series ever, and a sleeper contender for the greatest TV drama ever made, Deadwood ran for three seasons on HBO from 2004 to 2006 and got a satisfying, long-awaited movie conclusion in 2019. Visionary creator David Milch wrote Shakespearean, unbelievably profane dialogue of great depth and insight about how society can be built and maintained. The show is about the development of the titular Gold Rush town in the 1870s, and how people like entrepreneurial, unscrupulous saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and well-meaning but temperamental sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) turned the town from a lawless frontier outpost to part of America, with all the blood and ingenuity and complexity that implies. It's a demanding watch that requires your full attention, but it's incredibly rewarding, with some of the most fully developed characters in TV history. If you love 1883's ambition, check out Deadwood.
If you like 1883's edginess but find Deadwood too literary, split the difference with Hell on Wheels, a violent, profane, and un-PC Western that ran on AMC for five seasons from 2011 to 2016. The series is set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War during the construction of the eastern end of the Transcontinental Railroad. Anson Mount stars as Cullen Bohannon, an antiheroic former Confederate soldier who's on a quest to get revenge on the men who killed his wife and child. He takes a job as a foreman on the railroad crew, which brings him into the community of the title, a traveling camp/den of iniquity and lawlessness where the railroad laborers and the people who provide services for them live. The series also stars Colm Meaney as corrupt businessman Doc Durant, a real historical figure whom Meaney entertainingly plays as a scenery-chewing, mustache-twirling bad guy who uses the railroad project as his piggy bank, and Common as Elam Ferguson, a freedman who becomes Bohannon's right-hand man. It's a much less sophisticated show than 1883, but it has a similar kind of old-fashioned, non-revisionist Western grittiness.
If your favorite part of 1883 is watching Margaret (Faith Hill) and Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) be tough as hell, you'll love Godless. This 2017 limited series from writer-director Scott Frank (The Queen's Gambit) is set in New Mexico the year after 1883. Outlaw Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell) is on the run from his father figure Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) after he rejected his brutal mentor's cruel ways, a schism he punctuated by blowing off Griffin's arm. He takes refuge in La Belle, a town whose male residents mostly died in a mining accident, leaving it populated almost entirely by women. The women — who include Michelle Dockery, Merritt Wever, and Tantoo Cardinal — protect Roy and their town from the Griffin Gang. Wever and Daniels both won Emmys for their performances.
This drama, which based on an idea originated by Bruce Lee, brings together the Western, martial arts, and crime dramas into an ass-kicking thrill ride that fans of 1883 will love for its exciting action and interesting exploration of the political and ethnic conflicts that shaped the West. Stuntman-turned-actor Andrew Koji stars as Ah Sahm, a Chinese martial artist who travels to 1870s San Francisco in search of his missing sister. He quickly gets swept up in the city's Tong Wars, where rival gangs battle for control of Chinatown, and deals with crooked cops and anti-Chinese racists. It's not a traditional Western, but it's really cool to see any kind of Western about Asian characters, who are often overlooked in Western stories despite playing a major role in the settlement of the American West. And Warrior is just extremely fun to watch, with bone-crunching fight scenes and complex political maneuvering between various factions. The first two seasons aired on Cinemax, but the third will be an HBO Max original when it comes out. It's also the sexiest show on this list, if that helps entice you.