Thursday, July 4, 2013

Top Ten Shows That Feel Like Westerns

I've made no secret of my love of western movies that think outside the box (like Valley of the Gwangi or The Warrior's Way) I think it's because I appreciate seeing typical conventions of a western turned on their ear a bit. It will probably come as no surprise that I loved Cowboys vs Aliens. A bit of genre-mashing, when done well, can be quite bit of fun.

The same is true in reverse in that I like it when shows of other genres borrow from old Western tropes. Here are my top ten favorite shows that feel a bit like an old westerns to me. With some the western elements are debatable, but if you turn your head sideways and squint, you'll see it. ;)


With their western garb, holstered side arms and occasional use of horses as modes of transportation, this is an easy one - it actually makes the list of wikipedia's television westerns. I mean, the very first episode was called "The Train Job" and was about a train robbery. If that's not a western, I don't know what is. 

Strangely, when the series originally aired, many sci-fi fans took issue with the western flavor and turned their backs on the show. 


Only airing for one season on NBC back in the 90's, this show featured Debrah Farentino as the leader of a group of settlers trying to survive on an alien planet. I particularly like the fact that the leader of the expedition is a woman. You didn't (and still don't) see that terribly often. 

Among the natives of the planet were two distinct races; the troll-like Grendlers and the underground-dwelling Terrians

Like Firefly, the clothes have a bit of a 19th century rustic look to them, with a heavy use of earth tones and cotton textures. Also, the relationship between the settlers and natives often gives rise to plots seen in westerns. There is also the Wagon Train vibe as the settlers have to make their way across the new world.


It's the classic "good man is drafted into being sheriff of an unruly town", except in this case, replace "unruly" with "overrun by super-geniuses". Every week, Sheriff Jack Carter, with the help of his trusty deputy Jo, help keep the peace in a town where citizens flaunt the law. (Or at least the laws of physics.) 


While this series based on the exploits of a 19th century police officer doesn't take place on in western setting, the time period is right. And occasionally, there is a plot point that seems directly lifted from old episodes of Bonanza.


The adventures of a 23rd century sheriff set on the alien-rich desert planet called New Texas. While the filmation animation looks stiff and recycled by today's standards (which it was), the stories had a bit of charm as I recall.


If you are only familiar with the movie series, this might seem like a hard sell, but let me give you a quick run down. Two astronauts land on ape-ruled Earth and find themselves on the run with a sympathizing ape scientist (played by Roddy McDowell, naturally) in tow. Wanted fugitives, they ride into a new town every week where they often become embroiled in some classic western plot (say, an ape farmer who won't listen to his ape son's new-angled notions of farming.) Once you see the horses, rifle battles and earth-toned garb that appear in the show each week, it's hard to deny the western influence.


The adventures of Captain Grey Holden, as played by Darren "Kolchalk" McGavin aboard the riverboat Enterprise. The show takes place prior to the Civil War and is the rare show wherein one is just as likely to see pirates as outlaws from week to week. Co-starring a pre-Gunsmoke Burt Reynolds, this series ran for two seasons on NBC until 1961. I've only caught glimpses of this show on YouTube and would love to see it show up on Netflix. 


Yeah, I know, zombies...but here's the thing - Walking Dead is far more than just a show about zombies. I'd argue that the zombie aspect, while obviously a very important part of what makes the show so compelling, is not what the show is really about. It's really about survival in a world that has suddenly become a new frontier. And that's what westerns are at the root of their being.


I don't really think anyone would argue that the adventures of Dan Hagerty's title character and his friend Mad Jack (played by Denver Pyle) fall squarely into the realm of western television. What sets the show apart from other run-of-the-mill westerns was the Walden-like lifestyle and environmentalist approach the show took with the old "fugitive from society" storyline. It gave the show an anti-establishment flavor not seen in television westerns before. 

Dukes of Hazzard


This is the toughest one to explain as there are no explicit links to a western influence. Still, the provincial nature of the characters, the rural Georgia setting and the simplistic "good vs bad" weekly conflicts does remind me of classic westerns. The one direct link I might point to was that during the first season, Bo and Luke were often seen using compound bows to resolve problems (as they were forbidden from owning firearms) This plot point was forgotten as the show evolved into a more family suitable series. Also - this is another show to feature Denver Pyle (who played Uncle Jesse) - he has a way of making things feel westerny just by showing up doesn't he?

That wraps up my top ten list.
Is there a show on this list you disagree with? Or one you think might fit better?

Let me know in the comments below. :)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice list. I would include Justified

Regina said...

Yeah, I understand I totally need to watch Justified. My dad loves this show. It's next for us to watch!

Tobias said...

This is great!

Anonymous said...

Ya Forgot Cowboy Bebop.
Mushroom Hunting!
--Mian

Anonymous said...

Also, if Trigun isn't a western, I'm not sure what is...
--Mian

Gina Shelley said...

I always make notes when people suggest them to me. I will look for these. I have found some fun movies this way. Thanks for the tips!