The “Yellowstone” Prequel / Spinoff “1883” is Worth a Peek…

How much Yellowstone is too much Yellowstone? Well the Paramount Network appears to be eager to find out. After the wild success of what was supposed to be a 10-episode summer series, Yellowstone was moved to the heart of the television binge season in 2021 (a.k.a fall/winter), while a host of spinoff series were green lighted, all under the umbrella of the man who is given credit for reviving the modern Western—actor, writer, producer, and director Taylor Sheridan.

Along with the fourth season of Yellowstone that is still ongoing, another series called 6666 about a sister ranch in Texas is ready to commence, while a prequel/origin story called 1883 has just started airing episodes on Paramount’s streaming platform, Paramount Plus. Starring country music super couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, along with a host of other high-caliber names, the streaming series has a special importance and appeal in the country music world specifically.

Much has been made about how the soundtrack of the Yellowstone series has featured many independent country artists. And due to the surprising and sustained popularity of the series, it has very directly resulted in the swelling of interest and support behind a host of worthy performers. The Yellowstone soundtrack has been its own musical phenomenon, but no such similarity will grace 1883, at least not from what we’ve seen so far. Instead, the soundtrack is solely the domain of classical compositions, which tastefully set the mood for this epic Western and its sweeping landscapes.

Though Tim and Faith’s characters of James and Margaret Dutton make for the impetus of the series, at least when it comes to the first two episodes, it’s Sam Elliott’s character Shea Brennan—who is tasked to lead a settlement party from Fort Worth to parts West—that receives a lion’s share of the dialogue and face time, along with his Buffalo Soldier sidekick Thomas, played by LaMonica Garrett. And hell, if you have Sam Elliott on your set, you would be a fool not to train the camera in his direction as much as you can with the way he masters character so effortlessly.

But really, the perspective of the series is run through the Dutton’s precocious, wide-eyed, and somewhat unruly daughter Elsa Dutton, portrayed deftly by Isabel May. She acts as the narrator for the series, and brings interest and intrigue to every scene she appears in, slyly moving from simple observations, to sensational poetry in the dialogue, like she illustrates in the opening scene of the series.

As for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, writer and director Taylor Sheridan is smart to understand they are not seasoned actors, and to not set them up to fail by giving them difficult tasks, at least early in the series. Instead, taking a “let the game come to you” approach has allowed both to fare just fine in the first two episodes of the series. It’s unlikely they’re on their way to scoring Emmys at this point, but they have in no way been a burden on the series so far. And thanks to stellar wardrobe and settings, it’s not a big ask of the audience to see the country performers as The Duttons in 1883 as opposed to duet partners on an arena stage in the 2020s.

Some have fairly criticized Yellowstone for at times feeling like a soap opera with horses. That is not the case for 1883 whatsoever. It is much more cinematic, and much more wide and sweeping in scope. It may be a streaming-only series, but you can tell this isn’t a Taylor Sheridan side project, this is his baby. This is Taylor Sheridan’s stab at Lonesome Dove, including the trajectory the story initially takes, and the quality of the writing. Meanwhile, the action keeps the screenplay lively, and the cinematography is spectacular.

For the eighth episode of Season 4 of Yellowstone, so much time was spent setting up the 1883 series as well as 6666, little time was left for Yellowstone itself. Similar to how the original UHF Paramount Network hitched its wagon to the Star Trek franchise to build out network-wide programming, it appears Paramount has found its path forward in the digital era, and it will be multiple series of Taylor Sheridan-produced Westerns.

We’re only two episodes in to 1883 at this point. But if the question you have is if 1883 is even worth a peek in the incredibly cluttered media landscape with abundant options—especially if it won’t be supporting your favorite country artists in the soundtrack—the answer so far is “yes.”

The first episode can be seen in full below.

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