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1883 1.1
Photo: Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Television

‘1883’ episodes 1-2 review: Strong cast and visuals in a clichéd western

1883 begins the story of how the Dutton family headed west and attained their wealth.

1883 is the latest installment in the Sheridanverse. It serves as a prequel to cable’s most watched show, Yellowstone, and we even received our first glimpse of the world during the season four premiere. Today, the show officially begins and we see the story of how the Dutton family made their way west searching for opportunity and eventually settled in Montana.

The first thing you notice is the high production value with excellent cinematography and breathtaking views and backdrops. In addition, the costumes and sets have great attention to detail and transport you to the era. It’s difficult not to fall for the romanticism of the period western.

1883 assembles a talented cast headed by Sam Elliott as Shea Brennan. He leads the expedition bringing a caravan of settlers from Texas to the frontier. There’s no surprise that Elliott excels as a cowboy but he brings complexity to the character. Shea has a tragic past that stills haunts him but he is also practical in guiding and preparing his party. Though you don’t want to cross him because he’s good with the steel and can handle his own in a tussle.

1883 1.2
Photo: Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play James and Margaret Dutton respectively, who are the grandparents of Kevin Costner’s character in the flagship. The real-life couple benefit from having an inherent chemistry with each other and it helps give James’ commitment to his family an extra level of authenticity.

Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), the daughter, is a slightly more frustrating character. 1883 is told from her perspective since she is the narrator. At times, her young wonderment and sense of adventure is infectious but at other times, it can be excessive how they continuously portray her as a free spirit that doesn’t conform to society’s norms.  Our introduction to Elsa at the start of the premiere also calls for some great suspension of disbelief in how she gets through her situation.

The first two episodes establish the main characters and involves all the preparation before the long trek. They paint a stereotypical picture of the Old West and how dangerous it can be. Native attacks, roaming bandits, rape, and the Oregon Trail video game favorite, dysentery. That doesn’t even mention the frontier justice with people killed in cold blood just to make a point. That’s all before the caravan even really sets out.

Despite clichéd narratives of the Wild West, the strong cast and remarkable scenery is enough to bring viewers back to ride along on this period drama.

New episodes of 1883 are released Sundays on Paramount+.

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