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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘1883’ On Paramount+, A ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel That Shows How The Dutton Family Settled In Montana

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘1883’ On Paramount+, A ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel That Shows How The Dutton Family Settled In Montana

When we reviewed Yellowstone three years ago, we had no idea it would be the monster hit it would become. The story of the Duttons has been compelling enough to basically attract early-era Walking Dead-sized audiences, so the idea of a prequel about the family seemed like a good idea. 1883 is that prequel, and creator Taylor Sheridan’s knack for casting leads continues with the always-watchable Sam Elliott.

1883: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: A voice says, “I remember the first time I saw it. I tried to find words to describe it, but I couldn’t.” Then we see a woman’s face; she’s lying on the ground with smoke billowing around her. She eventually gets up to see that the wagon train is on fire and Native Americans are attacking the caravan. She shoots one of the attackers but gets an arrow in her stomach for her trouble.

The Gist: In a small house on the Texas plains, a sobbing Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) carries his daughter, who recently died of smallpox, into his bedroom and puts her next to his wife, who also died of the dreaded disease. He then sets his house on fire in an effort to get rid of that plague in his life. He’s contemplating killing himself when his right-hand man Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) tells him that “If I’m diggin’ a hole, I want to do it before the sun gets high.”

While they make their way into their Pinkerton office in Fort Worth, they come across James Dutton (Tim McGraw), who is driving a wagon while fighting off bandits. He manages to get all of them with both his shotgun and a long-range rifle; Brennan is impressed at his shooting skills, but he tells Dutton he got lucky.

Dutton makes his way into Fort Worth, “Hell’s Half-Acre.” The place is more or less lawless, as we see when Dutton catches a pickpocket and a mob grabs the guy and strings him up. He’s there to meet his family so they can journey north and settle in the largely unexplored frontier.

Brennan and Thomas are in their Pinkerton Security office, talking to have an large group of Germans who seek to settle in Oregon. No one speaks English, they have too much gear, can’t ride horses and no guns. Brennan knows that they’ll get killed if they don’t have protection; even though the group pushes back on the added cost, Brennan convinces them to pay and he goes about looking for people to ride with them.

He encounters Dutton in a saloon and tries to convince him that he and his group could benefit from the additional manpower if he signs on to protect the bigger group, but Dutton would rather be on his own.

Dutton’s wife Margaret (Faith Hill) and his family, including oldest daughter Elsa (Isabel May) arrive in town by train. With them is James’ sister Claire (Dawn Olivieri) and her daughter. Elsa wants to drink in every experience, to the point where she runs afoul of her mother for just about everything. But when Dutton is barely able to save Elsa from getting raped by a drunken patron of the brothel downstairs, he realizes that riding with Brennan and helping to protect the Germans may help his family get to a plot of land up north where they could settle.

1883
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Well, Yellowstone for one, since Taylor Sheridan created 1883 as a prequel to his massive hit series. But it also has a bit of a Deadwood vibe to it, mostly thanks to the presence of Sam Elliott.

Our Take: We looked back on our review of Yellowstone three years ago and noticed that we said that the show was bad and boring, which is definitely how we felt about that show’s early episodes. 1883 doesn’t suffer from the bad part; Sheridan wrote a smart pilot with some sharply-written dialogue and excellent performances from Elliott, McGraw, Hill and May. But the first episode was also very self-indulgent and slowly-paced, giving viewers many chances to check out during scenes that didn’t drive the story or tell us much about the characters.

Yes, we get it; the show is supposed to be on the scale of good old-fashioned Westerns, with wide shots of the countryside and lingering scenes of people riding horses against stunning backdrops. But the 66-minute pilot still could have shaved ten minutes of that off and we would have still been able to appreciate the show’s scale and scope.

Things perk up whenever Elliott is on screen, mainly because we feel his profound loss, but also his sense of taking up the challenge of getting the Germans to Oregon without getting them all killed. “Just because they won’t survive doesn’t mean we can’t try,” he tells Thomas. He wants this group to have a better life, but knows that most of them won’t make it. That sense of determination and purpose, mixed with the pain we see in Brennan’s eyes, makes him a compelling character.

McGraw does a fine job as Dutton, a man determined to find his piece of the frontier and settle his family down. We were surprised that Hill, who has a few acting credits but we’ve never seen play anyone but herself before, does a good job as the equally strong Margaret, and not just in the scenes where the McGraw and Hill are together — though those scenes show the chemistry the longtime married couple have in real life.

We’re also excited about May, whose Elsa is the one whose voice we hear narrating parts of the episode. The show is mostly seen from her perspective, as she gets excited about the possibilities of exploring beyond the “edge of civilization,” as the voice over says. As we see in the flash-forward scene, she can more than hold her own, and she may end up being the one who really solidifies the Duttons’ presence in Montana.

If Sheridan can tighten the pacing going forward, he does have a compelling story on his hands. We have one other worry, though; how will he show the role of Indigenous people in this story? The flash forward first scene isn’t promising, showing them as the cliched image of bloodthirsty savages instead of people who are defending their land from being invaded and taken by white settlers. In 2021-22 it’s inexcusable to show the story of our westward push without dealing with the issue that the land our ancestors settled in wasn’t their land to take. Our hope is that Sheridan addresses this, and in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s just lip service.

Sex and Skin: Claire has women strip down to examine them for the journey, but that’s it.

Parting Shot: The Duttons meet Brennan and the German settlers by a lake; Elsa floats in the water, and Dutton has a look on his face that he’s ready to make a new life for his family.

Sleeper Star: Oliveri will be a wild card as Claire. She seems to be tougher on Margaret’s kids than Margaret is, but she also may not end up helping the family in the long run.

Most Pilot-y Line: When Dutton gives his condolences to Claire about her husband, she says, “You can’t believe in heaven, then be upset when people go there.”

Our Call: STREAM IT. We’re concerned about the pacing of 1883 and how it depicts Indigenous people, but the story is compelling, and Sam Elliott’s multi-layered lead performance is more than enough to keep us interested.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

Stream 1883 On Paramount+

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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