A little confession before I delve into my review of 1883. While I am aware of Yellowstone, I have never actually watched it.
So when I saw that both 1883 and the follow-up story, 1923, were both out on Paramount+, I decided to go back to the begining to where it all began and watch the various tv shows in chronological order.
So that brings me to 1883, the western drama and the first installment of the Dutton family.
Created by Taylor Sheridan, the series stars Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett, Marc Rissmann, Audie Rick, Eric Nelsen, and James Landry Hébert.
It follows the story of how the Duttons came to own the land that would become the Yellowstone Ranch. But is it worth watching?
What Is 1883 About?
I've already admitted to knowing absolutely nothing about Yellowstone, so the 1883 tv series was my first encounter with the Dutton family.
There is the father James Dutton (Tim McGraw), his wife Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill), and their two children Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) and young John Dutton sr (Audie Rick).
We meet them in Fort Worth, Texas, before they begin their journey west. At the same time, we are introduced to Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott), an employee of the Pinkerton Agency who must lead an expedition of immigrants across the country to Oregon.
With Shea is Thomas (Lamonica Garrett), a veteran U.S. Army sergeant who helps him bring the immigrants on the treacherous trail across the plains.
Shea convinces James to go with them knowing he needs capable people as the convoy is largely made up of people who can't ride horses, swim, fire a gun, or even speak English.
So as the Dutton family embarks on the long road ahead, they do so with the convoy. But in 1883, the great plains of America were not kind to travelers. Bandits, Indians, weather, and even the land itself were perilous, and many lost their lives trying to make it to the promised land.
The story of 1883 is told through the narration of Elsa, the Dutton's resourceful 17-year-old daughter. Young, innocent, and undisciplined, she looks forward to the expedition as a great adventure.
To her, the journey represents a freedom she has never known and one she is more than ready to embrace as she becomes a vital member of the group, becoming a skilled survivalist and cowgirl.
So while we know that the Duttons eventually ended up in Montana, the how and why is the crux on which 1883 hangs its hat.
1883 Official Trailer
Is 1883 Worth Watching?
The opening scenes of 1883 leave you in no doubt as to what you are about to get in the next 10 episodes. From smallpox to a scalping in Indian territory, this isn't Little House on the Prairie.
Taylor Sheridan has gone out of his way to create a story that encompasses as many of the horrors associated with that time as possible. But that isn't to say that it's all doom and gloom, though there is a lot of that too.
Telling the story from the perspective of a wide-eyed young girl gives the story a fresh angle and one that captures both the adventure as well as the harrowing challenge of this kind of journey west.
It's cinematically stunning with wide sweeping shots across the great plains forming the backdrop, a real juxtaposition between the beauty and hazardousness of the land.
1883 has drama, the odd romantic moment, some lighter elements with quick banter, a superb cast and set of characters, shocking realism of the time, and hope that the travelers can make it to start their new lives.
What I will say, though, is that one of the opening scenes is a little of a spoiler alert, which is played out in full around episode eight or nine. Which is a shame.
Also, as dramatic as 1883 is, I did think that it was two episodes too long. There is only so much of watching the weary go another few miles before you think “I get it, it's a long journey, but get on with it!”.
That said, Isabel May is a shining light and the reason that the whole show works so well. Without her, the optimism and hope would be lost so go forth ‘Lightening with the Yellow Hair' (you'll understand when you watch it!).
Will There Be A Season 2 Of 1883?
The story of how the Dutton family made it to Montana during a time of western expansion, is completely wrapped up in 1883.
We get a ‘one year later' round-up of how all of our favourite characters faired.
And as Sheridan also created 1923, which picks up the story 40 years later, it's safe to say that 1883 will not have a second season.
Should You Watch 1883 before Yellowstone?
If you want to go back to where it all started and follow the Dutton family tree to the present day, then 1883 is a great place to start, if you've never seen Yellowstone.
However, the two shows, other than the Dutton lineage, don't have much in common at all given that there are at least five generations between them.
So while it's interesting to see the progression from 1883 to 1923 to Yellowstone, you don't actually have to watch them in order to enjoy them.
1883 Cast Members
Sam Elliott (The Ranch) as Shea Brennan, a former captain who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Tim McGraw as James Dutton from Tennessee. He was a captain in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War and is a skilled leader and combatant.
Faith Hill as Margaret Dutton, the matriarch of the family.
Isabel May as Elsa Dutton, James and Margaret Dutton's 17-year-old daughter, through whom much of the story is told in her voice as narrator.
LaMonica Garrett as Thomas, a veteran U.S. Army sergeant who teams up with Shea Brennan to help guide the group.
Marc Rissmann as Josef, a German immigrant who worked as a carpenter before travelling to America.
Audie Rick as John Dutton Sr., the younger child of James and Margaret and is five years old at the beginning of the journey.
Eric Nelsen as Ennis, a young cowboy who is paid to escort the group and tend to their cattle.
James Landry Hébert as Wade, the lead cowboy.
Noah Le Gros as Colton, an experienced cowboy who joins the group at the Texas-side of the Red River.
Anna Fiamora as Risa, a young immigrant woman who is married to Josef.