‘The American Old West’ is often romaticized as this anarchic, chaotic frontier in popular American culture, with the image of the gun-slinging, horse-riding, tobacco-chewing cowboy as its perfect, wholesome representation. Contemporary media was particularly instrumental in this romanticization of the Western United States primarily due to the delayed English settlements (19th and 20th century). This period of mass settlement encouraged by President Thomas Jefferson, clubbed with the media’s aggressive sensationalization enabled the idea of the ‘Western’ into popular culture. As the American frontier past into history, through its numerous and repeated representations in comic books, films and children’s toys, the myths of the West took a firm hold in the imagination of people all over the globe.
Westerns are still an extremely prevalent genre of motion picture, with additional money being poured into it by streaming giants such as Amazon, HBO and Netflix. With the rejuvenation of the television format, several TV series are continuously exploring and expanding the genre of ‘Westerns’. Recurring characters and plot structures of this genre essentially trace out the ‘Otherness’ in the vast plains and deserts laden Western frontier in its relation to the rest of the United States, by upholding the lawless, harsh, wild nature of it. Some of these characters include bandits, bounty hunters, Native Americans, outlaws and gamblers. The background score usually includes American and Mexican folk music such as country, New Mexico music, and rancherras.
Netflix Inc is a modern day streaming giant, founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in Scotts Valley, California. With over 139 million subscriptions as of January 2019, Netflix enjoys a massive worldwide presence and has since become a part of popular dialect (“Netflix and Chill”, anyone). Since 2012, Netflix has taken an active part in the previously unexplored territory of original content, giving rise to ‘Netflix Originals’. Some of the biggest names of the film industry such as Alfonso Cuaron, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, amongst others have collaborated with Netflix. Both television and cinematic content of the ever evolving Western genre have found numerous inclusions in the library. So, here’s the list of really good Western shows on Netflix that are available to stream right now:
10. The Pinkertons (2014)
Founded by Scotsman, Alan Pinkerton in the United States way back in 1850, the ‘Pinkerton National Detective Agency’ is a private security guard and detective agency, currently a subsidiary of Securitas AB. The agency’s initial rise to fame was when they foiled an apparent assassination attempt on one president-elect Abraham Lincoln. Later on, during the Civil War, Pinkerton agents were hired by Lincoln for his personal security. The eponymous TV show ‘The Pinkertons’ is a Canadian Western police procedural TV series which features authentic crime cases of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, with use of its archives (case files) dating back to the 1860s. Produced by ‘Rosetta Media’ and ‘Buffalo Gal Pictures’, this broadcast syndicated TV show was announced in April 2014. With the whole juxtaposition of the detective motion picture genre in the iconic American ‘Old West’, ‘The Pinkertons’ can prove to be an interesting watch over the weekend. It is currently up for streaming on ‘Netflix”.
9. The West (1996)
‘The West’ is a well-made television documentary miniseries about the American Old West, which first broadcast on PBS from September 15-22, 1996. Created by frequent collaborators, Stephen Ives and Ken Burns, ‘The West’ has been well received by critics and viewers due to its enthralling detail, authenticity of facts and moving representation of the American ‘Old West’. Funded by ‘General Motors’, initial production of ‘The West’ took the filming crew over 100,000 miles via airplane, in the process of conducting 72 interviews and visiting 74 archives and collections, resulting in more than 250 hours of footage. Historians Stephen Ambrose, J.S, Holliday, Richard White, and novelists Maxine Hong Kingston and N. Scott Momaday were some of the notable interviewees who featured on this documentary miniseries. Actors Adam Arkin, Matthew Broderick, Ossie Davis, Keith Carradine, Jimmy Smits, and famous playwright Arthur Miller lent their voices to the series.
8. Longmire (2011- Present)
‘Longmire’ is an American modern Western crime drama television series that premiered on June 3, 2012, on the A&E network. The series, developed by John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin, is based on the ‘Walt Longmire Mysteries’ series of novels by the best-selling author Craig Johnson. Walt Longire, a sheriff in the fictional city of ‘Abroska County’, Wyoming is the titular character of the show, and the plot revolves around him investigating major crimes within his jurisdiction. First three seasons of the show premiered on ‘A&E’, eventually becoming their highest rated television series. However, when the network decided against renewing the series, Netflix picked it up, starting with season four. Episodes of all six seasons are available for streaming and viewing online via Netflix in North America and Australia. A well rounded Western series, ‘Longmire’ might serve the taste of generic fans.
7. Hell on Wheels (2011-2016)
Featuring the recurring ‘Western’ plot of rail-road construction, ‘Hell on Wheels’ is an American Western television series which premiered on the AMC network in 2011. The main plot of the series focuses on the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States. Starring Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, rapper Common, and Dominique McElligot, the show chronicles the lives of the individuals associated with the road construction, including labourers, mercenaries, sex workers, and surveyors. The series derives its name from the mobile encampment which followed the army of Union Pacific railroad workers westward as they constructed the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1860s North America. Comprising of flimsily assembled gambling houses, dance halls, saloons and brothels, it provides as a pot-boiling premise for a ‘Western’. As of August 2018, ‘Hell on Wheels’ was available on Netflix, USA for online streaming.
6. Frontier (2016 – Present)
Co-produced by Discovery Canada and Netflix, Frontier is a Canadian historical period drama which heavily borrows from the ‘Western’ genre. Chronicling the North American fur trade in late 1700s Canada, it stars none other than our very own Khal Drogo, and more recently ”Aquaman” Jason Momoa. The series was renewed for a second season in October 2016, ahead of its premiere, and has released two seasons subsequently. Jason Momoa plays the part-Irish, part Cree outlaw who is campaigning to breach the Hudson Bay’s company monopoly of the corrupt fur trade in Canada. Internationally, the show is distributed by ‘Netflix’, since January 20, 2017.
5. Strange Empire (2014 – 2015)
Following the story of three women who band together for survival in a distant town near the Alberta-Montana border in the 1860s, ‘Strange Empire’ enables an unconventional, feminine take on the male dominated genre of the ‘Western’. Created by Laurie Finstad- Knizhnik, this Canadian television drama stars Cara Gee, Melissa Farman and Tattiawna Jones. The first season consisting of 13 episodes in total premiered on the ‘CBC’ network on 6 October, 2013. Unfortunately, CBC cancelled the series on March 2015, after a single season’s run. It is currently available for streaming via Netflix.
4. Dominion Creek (2015 – 2017)
This Irish Western television series follows the story of three Irish immigrant brothers who travel from Montana to the Yukon, Canada during the ‘Klondike Gold Rush (1896-99) in the hope of acquiring a fortune. They settle in the town of the eponymous ‘Dominion Creek’, where they get involved in a feud with town boss, Jacob Hopkins. The first season of ‘Dominion Creek’ received nine Irish Film and Television Award nominations, winning four. Titled ‘An Klondike’ originally, it streams under the name ‘Dominion Creek’ in North America on ‘Netflix’ and ‘Acorn’. As of now, the series has had 2 seasons comprising a total of 8 episodes. Created and directed by Dathai Keane, the show filmed on the location in Connemara, Ireland, with the County Galway scenery standing in for Yukon. It premiered on the Irish television channel TG4, on the 8th of September, 2015.
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3. Hatfields and McCoys (2012)
‘The Hatfield-McCoy’ feud involves two rural families of the West Virginia-Kentucky, along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, between the years 1863-1891. This feud has since entered the American folklore lexicon as a metonym for bitterly feuding rival parties and lends itself to the essential plot construction of ‘Hatfields and McCoys’. Structured as a three part miniseries, ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ premiered on ‘History’ channel on May 28, 2012. This miniseries is History channel’s first aired scripted drama. In spite of the story being set in the Appalachians in West Virginia and Kentucky, the filming primarily took place in Romania just outside Brasov, with the Carpathians standing in for the Appalachians. Starring American actors Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Tom Berenger, and Powers Boothe, the miniseries holds a formidable rating of 8/10 on IMDb.
2. Godless (2017)
Named by both ‘The Washington Post’ and ‘Vanity’ as one of the ten best TV series of the year 2017, the Emmy winning ‘Godless’ is a Netflix original production created by Academy Award nominated screenwriter Scott Frank. This seven episode series began production in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in September 2016, and subsequently premiered globally on Netflix on November 22, 2017. Hosting a star cast of Jack O’ Connell, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Merrit Wever, Thomas Brodie Sangster, and Sam Waterston, the miniseries received overall positive reviews with review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes giving it an 88% ‘fresh’ rating, based on 66 reviews. The plot follows the story of Roy Coode, an injured outlaw on the run from his former boss, the notorious criminal, Frank Griffin, who takes refuge in an isolated mining town primarily governed by women. It currently holds a rating of 8.4/10 on IMDb.
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1. Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
Conscious reservation of the top spot leads me to finally list ‘Breaking Bad’ — the neo-western crime drama television series which since its release in 2008 has been considered worldwide by critics and audiences alike to be one of the best made shows in television history. Created by the maverick genius Vince Gilligan, the show originally aired on AMC for five seasons, from January 20, 2008 to September 29, 2013. It inspired inclusion on this list is due to its one of a kind, modern take on the American ‘Wild West’. Bryan Cranston in his career best performance of the high school chemistry teacher turned drug-lord Walter White, clubbed with the West backdrop of New Mexico makes for a tantalizing neo-western setting.
Instead of the outlaws wearing cowboy hats and riding horses, ‘Breaking Bad’ shows them as otherwise domesticated individuals. The wilderness of the New Mexico landscape becomes as crucial to the inherent wilderness of the characters as it does in the classic Western films of yore. In 2013, ‘Breaking Bad’ entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time. It is currently available in its entirety for streaming on ‘Netflix’. A spin-off prequel series ‘Better Call Saul’ made subsequently by Gilligan himself, comes highly recommended as well.
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