What are the best Western TV shows you can enjoy at the moment?
If you turned on the TV in the 1950s or 60s, you couldn’t move for TV Westerns, where manly cowboys ruled the range while plucky women… well, mostly stayed at home and cooked or wore low cut dresses in bordellos.
Fast forward 50 years, and the 21st century sees the Western thankfully reinvented. The genre has come back with a vengeance, with a modern take on the trials and tribulations of life on the ranch, the range or down the saloon.
We’ve put together a list of our favourites. So, saddle up and prepare to take a ride through our pick of the best cowboy and Western TV shows you can currently enjoy…
Regarded by many as one of the all-time greatest TV shows, Deadwood follow the growth of the small camp in Dakota into a thriving town, with historical characters and real-life events woven into the story.
Critical praise has been lavished on Ian McShane (American Gods) as real-life resident Al Swearengen, his performance winning him a Golden Globe as Best Actor.
The show doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life at the time, and while we meet famous names like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, this is a far cry from their Hollywood musical portrayal. After three seasons, a movie continuation followed in 2019. One of the best Western TV shows ever made.
Number of Seasons: 3 plus a movie
Number of episodes: 37
Average episode length: 50 minutes
Where to watch: US: HBO Max UK: Sky Go
This modern-day crime drama spin on the traditional Western follows Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor, The Matrix) the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County in Wyoming. Struggling following his wife’s death, things grow more complicated when his grown-up daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman, Smallville) discovers her mother was murdered, something Walt had kept from her.
Meanwhile, with a native American reserve nearby which contains its own dedicated police force, much of the drama comes from the tug-of-war between the two camps.
The series often deals with issues relating to contemporary native Americans, with Walt’s long-time friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips, Prodigal Son) – a Cheyenne man – often aiding him in his work. With a slower pace than most crime dramas, and some stunning vistas as a background, this one is a definite grower.
Number of seasons: 6
Average episode length: 42 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Amazon Prime Video
A classic Western story with a twist, we join Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell, Skins) in 1884 as he is hunted down by his former mentor Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, The Comey Rule), a menacing outlaw who once thought of Roy as a son.
Becoming sickened by Frank and his gang’s actions, Roy steals the loot from a robbery goes on the run. He is hidden by widow Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey), but soon Frank closes in on the town – which is run entirely by women after a mining accident killed most of the menfolk. Soon, the town band together to protect themselves.
Praised for its strong female cast in what has traditionally been a male-dominated genre, and packed full of cinematic references and favorite Western cliches, this one-off series is an action-packed ride.
Number of Seasons: 1
Average episode length: 41 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Netflix
A sci-fi/western mash-up – based in the 1973 movie of the same name – Westworld sees us in a cowboy theme park where the residents are androids, and guests can live out whatever Western fantasy they like. With the android hosts programmed to be unable to harm any humans, it’s all good, indulgent, and often twisted fun – well, until a new upgrade to the androids’ programming begins to change things.
Playing into the current fears over Artificial Intelligence, the drama stars Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood) and Thandiwe Newton (Line of Duty) as two of the now sentient androids. The show was a big hit at launch, although some criticism crept in over the increasingly complicated plotlines as time went on.
Just be warned, if you’re here for the ten-gallon hats and the shoot-outs, the show does veer away from the original Western premise – but it’s a taut, visually stylish thriller that is really worth it.
Number of seasons: 3
Average Episode Length: 57 minutes
Where to Watch: US: HBO UK: Sky Go
Hollywood star Kevin Costner heads the cast in this modern western, which follows the Dutton family, who live and work on one of the biggest ranches in the country. The family’s land is bordered by the world-famous Yellowstone Park, but also a native reserve and a rapidly expanding town – meaning they find themselves under attack in many different ways from many different sides.
With millions to be made from the land, big business is always lurking looking for an opportunity, so the show has plenty of intrigue. Add to this the Dutton family drama, and it sometimes plays a bit more Dallas than Deadwood. However, the show gives us a modern insight into life on land that even now can be as harsh and isolated. A fourth series is scheduled for late 2021.
Number of seasons: 3 — Yellowstone season 4 is on its way.
Average episode length: 45 minutes
Where to watch: US: Peacock Premium UK: Sky Go
'Hell On Wheels'
This series is based around the building of the transcontinental railway across America in the mid-1800s, just after the civil war.
Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, Star Trek: Discovery) is an ex-soldier who heads to the railroad to find those responsible for the murder of his wife and son and avenge their deaths. He joins ‘hell on wheels’, the mobile encampment the workers live in as they slowly build the railroad.
The show features a stand-out performance by Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), as driven railroad tycoon Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant, who faces internal squabbles, angry natives, and business pressures – but vows to stop at nothing to ensure his fortune. Over the seasons, the location moves as the railroad is built, pushing the action along as it does.
Number of seasons: 5
Average Episode Length: 45 minutes
Where to watch: US: Fubo TV UK: IMDB
Westerns and supernatural may not seem like natural bedfellows, but do bear with us on this one. Based on a comic book series, we meet Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano, Letterkenny) the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, the legendary Old West lawman. Returning to her father’s old patch, she finds herself using her unique supernatural powers to battle the reincarnated outlaws that her father killed.
The show has been praised for its strong female characters both in the heroes and the villains, as well as for its representation – Sherriff Haught is openly lesbian, just one of several queer characters in the show.
The lively, often funny adventure show has developed a huge fan following, and although the fourth season was announced to be the last, the fan campaign is underway to save Wynonna.
Number of seasons: 4
Average Episode Length: 43 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Sky Go
If you fancy gags rather than guns, then try The Ranch. Set in modern-day Colorado, the sitcom stars Ashton Kutcher (That ‘70s Show) as Colt Bennett, a second-rate professional quarterback who returns to his hometown after a 15-year absence to help run the family cattle ranch.
Colt’s lack of ranching experience – not to mention his lack of brains – provides the basis for many of the jokes. Meanwhile, there’s a star turn by Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman) as their mother, Maggie, a pot-smoking bar owner who is estranged from their father.
While definitely a traditional sitcom, the show has its dramatic and emotional moments and is a rare opportunity to look at life for the 21st-century cowboy.
Number of seasons: 4
Average episode length: 30 minutes
Where to Watch: US: Netflix UK: Netflix
The time travel show has taken trips to so many of the most famous periods of history, but it ticked off the Wild West very early on in The Gunfighters the 1966 four-part story featuring the first Doctor, William Hartnell.
He and companions Steven and Dodo arrive at the O.K. Corral just as the famous shootout is about to kick off, meeting historical characters including Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo.
There are some spirited performances alongside some distinctly ropey accents in the adventure. Plus, there’s even a sung theme song accompanied by the saloon piano that keeps us up to date with the action in each episode. It’s not The Magnificent Seven, but it’s great fun.
If creaky sixties TV isn’t for you, check out Matt Smith’s 2012 episode, A Town Called Mercy, packed with Western action as a cyborg gunslinger stalks a small town.
Average episode length: 25 minutes (classic Doctor Who), 45 minutes (modern Doctor Who)
Where to Watch: Classic Doctor Who is on BritBox / modern is on HBO Max in US and BBC iPlayer in the UK
Steven is a writer, editor, and commentator with a passion for popular TV and soap operas. He spent 20 years as the editor of Inside Soap magazine, documenting every punch-up and pucker-up in the Street, the Square and the village. As a feature writer, he’s covered TV crime dramas, period dramas and even some real-life star dramas. He’s been seen as a talking head on more TV clip shows than he cares to remember, has a life-long passion for TV sci-fi – the older and creakier the better – and is a slight obsessive about any reality show featuring hotels.
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