For fans of westerns, "1883" certainly looks like the real deal, coming from "Yellowstone" creator Taylor Sheridan and featuring Sam Elliott as a gnarled cowboy. The execution, however, feels stale, offering less incentive to stick around and see how these pioneers fare with their journey than to go, say, re-watch "Deadwood," which occupies roughly the same historical period. One problem is the heavy-handed narration, which sounds a little too much like those letters read during Ken Burns' "The Civil War." Here, the voice belongs to Elsa (Isabel May), the daughter of James and Margaret Dutton (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, whose pairing provides a strong country-music twang while allowing the married couple to wagon-pool to work).
A Civil War veteran (depicted in flashback during a later episode), Dutton has taken Horace Greeley's "Go west" advice to heart, seeking a better life by making the dangerous trek from Fort Worth, Texas to Montana, where the present-day Duttons of "Yellowstone" reside. (While this is ostensibly a prequel, that's a pretty flimsy connection.) James is a tough dude, but he's short on the guns needed to survive the wilderness, undertaking the trip with four women and a young boy (his family, plus a widowed mother and daughter). Grudgingly, he throws in with Elliott's bad-tempered Shea Brennan, who is leading a group of immigrants seeking a better life along with his companion Thomas (LaMonica Garrett), who shares Brennan's fondness for terse answers and harsh solutions.