If you switched on the TV in the 1950s or 1960s, you could not get enough TV westerns in which male cowboys ruled the land while brave women… Mostly stayed home and cooked or went to the whorehouse in low-cut dresses.
Fifty years later, in the 21st century, the Western has thankfully been reinvented. The genre is making a comeback with a modern look at the trials and tribulations of life on a ranch, shooting range, or saloon.
We have set together a list of our favorites. So saddle up and get ready for a ride with our pick of the best TV shows about cowboys and westerns to watch right now…
Rated by many to be one of the best television series of all time, Deadwood depicts the development of a small Dakota town into a thriving city, with historical figures and actual events woven into the story.
Critics have praised Ian McShane (American Gods) as Al Swearengen, whose performance earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
The series does not shy away from showing the harsh reality of the time. Although we meet famous names like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, we’re far from their Hollywood portrayal. After three seasons, a sequel will follow in 2019. One of the best western television series ever made.
Number of seasons: 3 plus a movie
Number of episodes: 37
Average episode length: 50 minutes
Where to watch: USA: HBO Max UK: Sky Go
Based on the traditional western, this modern crime drama follows Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor, The Matrix), the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County in Wyoming. The death of his wife teases him, and things get complicated when his adult daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman, Smallville) discovers her mother has been murdered, something Walt has kept from her.
A nearby Indian reservation has its police force, so much of the drama results from the tug-of-war between the two sides.
The series often touches on contemporary American Indian issues, and Walt’s longtime friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips, The Prodigal Son) – a Cheyenne – often helps him in his work. This film builds to a crescendo slower than most detective series and has beautiful scenery as a backdrop.
Number of seasons: 6
Average episode length: 42 minutes
Where to watch: USA: Netflix UK: Amazon Prime Video
In this classic western tale with a twist, we followed Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell, Skins) in 1884. His former mentor Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, The Comey Rule), is hunted down, a menacing outlaw. The latter once considered Roy, his son.
Disgusted with Frank and his gang, Roy steals the spoils of a robbery and goes on the run. He is hidden away by his widow Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey). Still, Frank soon approaches the town, run entirely by women after a mining accident kills most men. Soon the city comes together to protect itself.
Praised for its strong female cast in a traditionally male-dominated genre, this unique series is an action-packed adventure filled with movie references and clichés from popular Westerns.
Number of seasons: 1
Average episode length: 41 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Netflix
Based on the 1973 film of the same name, this sci-fi/Western mash-up takes us to a cowboy theme park where the inhabitants are androids, and guests can live out all the Western fantasies they want. Because the guest androids are programmed not to harm humans, all is well, forgivable, and often warped – until a new upgrade for the androids begins to change things.
In the drama, which alludes to current fears of artificial intelligence, Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood) and Thandiwe Newton (Line of Duty) play two of the now sentient androids. The series was a huge success when it launched. However, some criticism crept in over time due to the increasing complexity of the storylines.
Suppose you’re here for the big hats and gunfights. In that case, the series deviates from the original Western premise – but it’s a taut, visually stylish thriller that’s well worth the VR.
Hell on Wheels
This series is based on constructing the transcontinental railroad across America in the mid-1800s, shortly after the Civil War.
Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, Star Trek: Discovery) is a former soldier who travels 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 camp where workers live as they slowly build the railroad.
Colm Meaney plays railroad tycoon Thomas “Doc” Durant, who faces infighting, angry natives, and economic pressures, but will do anything to secure his fortune. As the seasons progress, the setting changes as the railroad is built and the plot moves forward.
Number of seasons: 5
Average episode length: 45 minutes
Where to watch: USA: Fubo TV UK: IMDB
Westerns and the supernatural may not be natural companions but come along for the ride. Based on a comic book series, we meet Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano, Letterkenny), the great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp, the legendary lawman of the Wild West. When she returns to her father’s old hometown, she uses her unique supernatural powers to fight the reincarnated outlaws her father killed.
The series has been lauded for its strong female characters, heroines and villains, and representation; Sheriff Haught is openly lesbian and is just one of many gay characters.
The often hilarious animated adventure series has a large fan base. Even though season four has been announced as the last, the fan campaign to save Wynonna continues.
Number of seasons: 4
Average episode length: 43 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Sky Go
If you’re more in the mood for gags than guns, check out The Ranch. Set in modern-day Colorado, the sitcom stars Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show) as Colt Bennett, a second-string professional quarterback. He returns to his hometown to run the family ranch after a 15-year absence.
Colt’s lack of experience as a rancher – not to mention his lack of brains – is the source of many jokes. Debra Winger plays their mother, Maggie, a pot-smoking bar owner who has divorced her father.
Although a traditional sitcom, the show has its dramatic and emotional moments and is a rare opportunity to see the life of a cowboy in the 21st century.
Number of seasons: 4
Average episode length: 30 minutes
Where to watch: US: Netflix UK: Netflix
The time-traveling show has appeared in many of history’s most famous eras. Still, the Wild West was popped up early in the 1966 four-part story The Gunfighters, featuring the first Doctor William Hartnell.
He and his companions Steven and Dodo arrive at the OK Corral just as the famous shootout begins and meet such historical figures as Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo.
The adventure contains some lively performances but also some decidedly wacky touches. There’s also a theme song accompanied by the saloon piano that keeps us up to date on the action of each episode. It’s not The Magnificent Seven, but it’s a lot of fun.
If ’60s television isn’t your thing, check out Matt Smith’s 2012 episode A Town Called Mercy, an action-packed western featuring a cyborg gunslinger on the prowl in a small town.
Hollywood star Kevin Costner manages the cast in this new western, which follows the Dutton family, who live and work on one of the most excellent ranches in the nation.
The world-famous Yellowstone Park borders the family’s land and natural resources and a rapidly expanding town, meaning they are under attack in several ways from many different sides.
With millions to be made from the land, big business is always looking for an opportunity, so the show has plenty of intrigues. Add to this the Dutton family drama, and it sometimes plays a bit more Dallas than Deadwood.
Despite this, the program gives us a modern insight into life on land that can be as harsh and alone even now. A 4th series is scheduled for late 2021.