The Yellowstone universe keeps expanding, with spin-off shows flying left and right. After the original show Yellowstone had phenomenal results, Taylor Sheridan got the green light to keep expanding. The first two prequel spin-offs, ‘1883’ and ‘1923’, harnessed even better numbers and reviews. The question is, which of the two shows is better, ‘1883’ or ‘1923’?
Although both shows have their qualities, it seems that ‘1923’ has a slight upper hand on 1883. The plot is much more complex, and the cast is very star-studded. Also, ‘1923’ is the only Yellowstone spin-off so far to have two seasons, and it broke all viewership records on Paramount Plus.
When you put it like that, it appears as if ‘1883’ is a subpar show, but that’s very far from the truth. Both shows are phenomenal and worth your time; it’s just that the plot is completely different, and they focus on different aspects of the Dutton family’s journey. Let’s compare the two shows’ facets to determine which is better and why.
First and foremost, one must compare the two shows’ plots. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but if you ask me, one show has a clear advantage in that category.
‘1883’ follows the first generation of the Dutton family, traveling from Texas to Oregon, trying to find a place to settle down and build a life. Unfortunately, their trip is cut short due to unforeseen circumstances (a death occurs, but I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the show yet).
They eventually settled in Montana’s Paradise Valley, where the Yellowstone ranch was founded, and kept in business for over a century, for generations, all the way to the modern day when Kevin Costner’s John Dutton III served as the patriarch and the leader of the ranch.
The story in ‘1883’ is pretty straightforward – we follow the Duttons on their way to the west, going through hardships with them. That being said, the show is pretty focused on Elsa Dutton’s romantic relationships, which is a part of the show that some fans praise while others dislike.
On the other hand, ‘1923’ follows the Dutton family 40 years later, during one of the darkest times in US history – the prohibition and the post-war crisis era that was incredibly difficult to overcome, especially for farmers and ranchers like the Duttons.
The plot is much more complex than a one-storyline, straightforward narrative. Three separate stories intertwine with each other, from the Dutton ranch, the boarding school for Native Americans, all the way to Spencer Dutton in Africa.
Overall, both shows have their unique storylines and narration types, but it’s undeniable that ‘1923’ has a more complex plot – especially considering that there will be another season of action.
‘1923’ takes the ‘plot’ category, no doubt.
Point: ‘1923’ (1:0) ‘1883’
Again, there’s a distinct difference between the two shows regarding the cast. That’s not to say that one show has a weak cast in no way – it’s just that the other features much more prominent Hollywood household names.
That show is ‘1923’, which included Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Jacob and Cara Dutton. I mean, those two alone should be enough to compete with any cast of any show.
But there’s more – Brandon Sklenar showed phenomenal acting skills throughout the first season, and there’s also Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones), Timothy Dalton (James Bond), and many others. Even the less popular cast members absolutely nailed their roles, like Aminah Nieves, Julia Schlaepfer, Darren Mann, and others.
‘1883’ also has a fantastic cast, but I don’t think it can compare to ‘1923’ in terms of names and popularity. You have Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Isabel May (who appears as a narrator in ‘1923’), LaMonica Garrett, James Landry Hebert, and many others. That’s not a weak cast, but ‘1923’ simply invested more in bringing in proven talent.
Point: ‘1923’ (2:0) ‘1883’
I’m unsure how important this is in determining which show is better. Actually, it IS important – the more, the merrier, if the show is awesome, right?
Well, ‘1923’ is the only show so far within the Yellowstone Universe – apart from Yellowstone itself – that will feature two seasons of action instead of one. That show is ‘1923’, as the second season is already officially confirmed and announced.
On the other hand, ‘1883’ is imagined as a single-season show from the start and will remain as such because the ending of the season is pretty much final. However, a new season of action was also announced as a part of the ‘1883’ show – The Bass Reeves Story.
That being said, The Bass Reeves Story will be a completely separate storyline, happening in another setting – the only connection with ‘1883’ is the time when it takes place. In fact, I’m not even sure if the original title, ‘1883’: The Bass Reeves Story, will stick because the new show’s official IMDb page has it named only ‘Bass Reeves.’
For now, ‘1923’ certainly has two seasons, while ‘1883’ remains with one.
Point: ‘1923’ (3:0) ‘1883’
One thing that I couldn’t help but notice is that ‘1883’ feels as if it were a higher-budget show than ‘1923’. That’s not the case in real life, as the shows had similar budgets, but it just appears that the settings in ‘1923’ look much more ‘fabricated.’
There were moments where I caught myself thinking – is this even shot in a real location, or is this a studio? Perhaps more money was put into bringing in an awesome cast and less into the production quality itself.
While watching ‘1883’, I felt much more immersed in the plot and the period when the storyline took place. The production felt much more real and of higher quality, so I’m giving ‘1883’ a point here.
Point: ‘1883 (1:3) ‘1923’
When ‘1883’ came out, the season premiere broke all viewership records. Paramount Network gave a ‘sampler special’ before the show actually arrived, after an episode of Yellowstone, and that sampler special garnered 4.9 million viewers. When the show actually arrived on Paramount Plus, the season opener garnered over 2.6 million viewers.
That was an absolute record for Paramount Plus. Read, WAS.
That’s when ‘1923’ came in and absolutely smashed every previous record the platform – and ‘1883’ – held. The season opener delivered a staggering 7.4 million viewers across Paramount Plus and its linear TV debuts – smashing the previous record by a colossal margin.
So, as great as the ratings were for ‘1883’, ‘1923’ trumps in this category. I’m not going into whether that’s because of the names attached to the show, like Helen Mirren, Harrison Ford, Jerome Flynn, and Timothy Dalton. Facts are facts; yet again, ‘1923’ gets the point in this category.
Point ‘1923’ (4:1) ‘1883’
Lastly, we can compare different stats all we want – but it all comes down to which show the fans loved the most. And, in this particular category, the contest couldn’t be any tighter.
First of all, ‘1883’ has a higher IMDb rating (8.7/10), with a much larger sample size (87K ratings). On the other hand, ‘1923’ doesn’t fall that far behind in terms of rating (8.5/10), but it’s a much smaller sample size (26K ratings), which is understandable, considering that the show is much ‘younger.’
That being said, it might be unfair to judge ‘1923’ based on the IMDb rating because we’re still waiting on another season of action. Naturally, they had to leave the season finale a bit open-ended so that the storyline may continue throughout the second season.
For that reason, ‘1923’ might feel more ‘untied’ than its predecessor, but that all may change once season two is wrapped up.
A better way to judge the shows is to see what the fans actually say. I’ve gone through the r/YellowstonePN subreddit to garner some opinions – and it seems that they are as tightly contested as you could imagine.
Some find ‘1883’ even better than the original Yellowstone series, while others find it ‘pretty bad,’ mostly due to the show always circling back to Elsa Dutton’s romantic relationships instead of focusing on the developing plot. I have to say, I didn’t find that to be the case in no way, but I guess everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
On the other hand, ‘1923’ seems to have the upper hand with fans regarding tension building and plot development. That makes sense, seeing that the subject matter is much darker, more complex, and less straightforward than in ‘1883’. I mean, the Teonna Rainwater storyline will simply send shivers down your spine.
Overall, both shows have some fans on their side, although it’s undeniable that both are very liked and very well-received. For that, I’ll give both ‘1883’ and ‘1923’ points in this category.
Point(s): ‘1923’ (5:2) ‘1883’
‘1883’ Vs. ‘1923’: Which is better?
Ultimately, it seems that ‘1923’ takes the edge from ‘1883’ as the superior show. It has a more complex plot, a more renowned cast, more seasons (announced), better viewership ratings, and is overall very well received by fans.
Now, that doesn’t mean ‘1883’ is a bad show – in fact, it’s one of the best one-season mini-series I’ve ever watched. It’s emotional and deep, and the character development is nearly perfect in such a limited format.
‘1923’ still has time to either become the best Taylor Sheridan-led show ever or to flop miserably in the second season. Only time will tell, I guess, but for now, I’d give it the upper hand when compared to its predecessor, ‘1883’.