Television Review: 1883

I’d heard a lot about Yellowstone. “Soap opera for cowboys,” is the description that came up most often, with some people really loving it, and some people not being fans at all. This intrigued me (I am, after all, a big Downton Abbey fan, and I’m under no illusions that it’s anything but a soap opera for history buffs), but I was still hesitant to commit to the show. However, there was a miniseries that takes place 150 years before Yellowstone: 1883. Not only was it very well reviewed by just about everyone, but it’s a western, and as we all know, I’m a sucker for westerns.

Denisa and I finished it a few days ago, and we both really enjoyed it.

Mind you, this is not a show to watch if you want to feel good about life. Basically, it’s “all the awful things that might happen to a pioneer wagon train, and then a few more.” It centers around a group of German and Slavic immigrants who dream of making it to Oregon. The only problem? They went the complete wrong way about it. They know nothing of the journey. They’re starting late, and from the wrong part of the country. They’re clueless when it comes to survival.

Any guesses how it’s going to turn out for them?

The one good decision they make is hiring a leader who knows what he’s about. Sam Elliott does a tremendous job of portraying Captain Shea Brennan, an old veteran of just about anything you could think of. He in turn hires on the Daggett family (ancestors of the folks on Yellowstone, or so I’m led to believe), played by real life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Honestly, I was skeptical they’d hired two country music stars to play leading roles, but they really hit above their weight class in the show, as well.

Overall, it’s a riveting look at how things might have been back then. There’s none of the polish and idealism that you’d get in earlier westerns. It feels like the prairie is just filled with a slew of cutthroats and thieves, and the only want to get anything done is to shoot people. Sometimes twice. (As I’m currently writing a western, it was very interesting to see them go over some of the same obstacles I’ve thrown at my protagonist. I’m not certain how accurate 1883 is, but it certainly gives the feel of being accurate, if that makes any sense.)

It’s only 10 episodes long, and it packs a lot into those ten episodes. It’s rated TVMA for a whole ton of violence. These pioneers didn’t go easy, and the show doesn’t go easy on portraying those deaths. It didn’t really roll around in the violence, though, if that makes any sense. (Though I could have done without the amputation scene . . .)

All in all, I gave it a 9/10. If you like westerns or history from that time period, it’s definitely worth your time, and even if you don’t, I’d still give it a shot. I liked it enough that we went straight into 1923, starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. If the series keep being as strong as these, I’m almost definitely going to end up giving Yellowstone a try, as well.


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1 thought on “Television Review: 1883”

  1. Janet Shanley

    Have you seen 1923? Only one season, but Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford are good. The side story about the Indian Schools is hard to watch, but overall so far it’s good.

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