Television Reviews

Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years – Grittier, Darker, and More Realistic Than Its Predecessor

For once, a network seemed to listen to criticism leveled at a series. The attempt to create a series based on characters and events in Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry resulted in Lonesome Dove: The Series which seemed to have more in common with Little House on the Prairie than McMurtry’s novel. Fans missed the darker vision of the West – and I would argue a more realistic one – that McMurtry presented.

Out of that criticism came Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. It picks up two years following the death of Newt Call’s (portrayed by Scott Bairstow) wife, Hannah. He has become a bounty hunter and is a much different character than who we last saw at the end of the previous series. Newt is forced to return to the town of Curtis Wells after his partner disappears. This is the town he lived in with Hannah, and where his former father-in-law and brother-in-law still reside.

The town has changed a lot in two years as well. What Newt finds when he returns is also much darker. There is no doubt that Clay Mosby (portrayed by Eric McCormack) is in complete control of the town. It has been changed to something Newt hardly recognizes. The town is filled with prostitutes, drinking, and gambling. Newt’s former father-in-law, Josiah Peale (portrayed by Paul LeMat) is the mayor but is also out of his mind. His brother-in-law, Austin (portrayed by Paul Johansson) acts as Moseby’s defender and is employed as the town’s sheriff.

The character of Newt is much darker in Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. He has no qualms about killing men anymore and the body count rises rather quickly through the first few episodes. Likewise, Mosby, who was teetering between good and evil previously is all evil now. He shows a few flashes of decency throughout the 22-episode season, but for the most part, his actions are ruled by his own personal gain and accumulating wealth.

A new character is Mattie Shaw (portrayed by Kelly Rowan). She’s interesting and tough. She comes to town as a gunsmith and a potential love interest for Newt. Also added to the mix eight episodes in is Amanda Carpenter (portrayed by Tracey Scoggins) who is able to go toe-to-toe with Mosby.

There’s no narration by an older Newt like there was in Lonesome Dove: The Series. It seems that the reflections he made during that series are supposed to be something the audience forgets about as some of the hints he made about his life don’t seem to be coming to fruition. These inconsistencies are some of the biggest problems in the series.

However, it seems like the town has become grittier and the actors are happy to sink their teeth into roles that aren’t quite as goody-goody as the first incarnation. Bairstow does a great job as Newt, although at times I got tired of what seemed to be a one-note character with him as he seemed hell-bent on alienating everyone.

The biggest surprise for me was McCormack as I got to know the actor during his Will & Grace years. This is a much different role for him; dark and sinister with only a few hints of redemption. I really liked him in this role and could hardly believe at times that it was the same actor. He has a tremendous range that I could only really appreciate after seeing him in a role such as this.

The season overall isn’t bad and I found that I liked it a lot better than the sappy Lonesome Dove: The Series. However, it could have been better as overall it felt like it might have gone too far to the other side with so much darkness and despair present in the town that one might wonder why anyone bothered to stay in the town unless you were whoring, drinking, or gambling. It seemed like Las Vegas on steroids before it got Disney-fied.

The sets are terrific and it really felt like I was watching a vision of the old west. It was filmed in Canada as it’s becoming harder and harder to find places in the United States that look like they did 100 years ago. The costuming is great as well with the town not feeling glamorous like many other shows. The women and men have a hard-working feeling to them, rather than always looking neat and clean as in other shows.

Probably the biggest problem is that in the attempt to capitalize on the Lonesome Dove name, it’s somewhat disappointing that Newt is the only character seen from any of McMurty’s stories. None of the old crew show up (among those that survived) and although Lee Majors as Newt’s father made a guest appearance in Lonesome Dove: The Series, he’s not even mentioned here. They could have taken the series and plopped it on the airwaves with just about any other characters and it would have been just as good – there was no sense in calling it Lonesome Dove except to try and capitalize on the name. Newt doesn’t even talk about events in his past that took place during the earlier years with Call and Gus in Texas and their cattle drive. Those that view the series expecting a payoff based on the name will be disappointed.

There are some terrific stories this season, and watching the five DVDs for the first time was interesting. If you like westerns and don’t mind being confronted by a truer depiction of the west rather than the romantic visions that have been presented over the years, I think you’ll enjoy Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years fine enough. It has good acting and some decent storylines, although some of them have the feeling of having been done before.

Disc One:

” The Return
” The Hanging
” Fear
” The Nature of the Beast

Disc Two:

” The Alliance
” Badlands
” The Bride
” Providence

Disc Three:

” Redemption
” Day of the Dead
” Thicker Than Water
” Lover’s Leap

Disc Four:

” Angel
” Bounty
” Cattle War
” Betrayal
” The Hideout

Disc Five:

” The Robbery
” Partners
” When She Was Good
” Medicine
” Love and War

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