Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Young Riders

This series ran for several years (1989 - 92) during a time when Westerns were almost non-existent on broadcast television. It also preceded the slight resurgence of Westerns on cable such as DEADWOOD and HELL ON WHEELS. So I watched it every week. It was a Western, after all, if not a perfectly executed one.

Inspired by the success of the movie YOUNG GUNS, THE YOUNG RIDERS features a lot of handsome young actors galloping around (not particularly well, in most cases), shooting guns, and getting into fistfights and occasional romances. The concept takes a couple of historical characters, William F. Cody and James Butler Hickok, who actually did work for the Pony Express at one point, although probably not together, and teams them with a politically correct group of fictional characters, all of whom are Pony Express riders,too. Throw in a crusty old codger to serve as their mentor and a woman to run the Pony Express station, and you've got THE YOUNG RIDERS.

They tried, I'll give them credit for that. The credit sequence has a fine theme song and looks good except for a few shots of the actors bouncing wildly in their saddles as they try to stay mounted. Most of the acting was good, especially Anthony Zerbe, known for playing villains, who was the above-mentioned old codger, Teaspoon Hunter; Josh Brolin in an early role as "Jimmy" Hickok; and Stephen Baldwin (yes, Stephen Baldwin) as Buffalo Bill Cody. The stories, like the casting, suffered at times from excessive political correctness, but now and then they got it right, and when they did THE YOUNG RIDERS was a good Western. One episode focused almost entirely on Cody and a grizzly bear and was excellent, featuring what may well be the best work of Stephen Baldwin's career. The two-part series finale featured an attack on a bandit stronghold that was the high point of the entire series, a story packed with action and good dialogue.

I always got the impression that the hearts of the people making THE YOUNG RIDERS were in the right place. I said to Livia more than once, "They really want to make a good Western. They just don't quite know how." I haven't seen any of the episodes since they were new, so I don't know how well the series holds up, but at the time I never missed it and enjoyed it very much despite its obvious flaws. Hey, it's a Western. What else am I gonna do?


pattinase (abbott) said...

I had high hopes for this one.

Charles Gramlich said...

89-92. those were the early years in my job and I got no time to watch TV at all in those days.

Todd Mason said...

I never paid much attention to this one, but Brian Arnold had a very good night of it with THE YOUNG RIDERS, CHINA BEACH and TWIN PEAKS as ABC's Thursday night one season (I was certainly paying attention in the second two hours, myself).

Did you ever catch UPN's slightly later LEGACY, also (even more quickly) cancelled? Started weak, continually improved (not the best way to do such things).

James Reasoner said...

I had to look up LEGACY on IMDB because I didn't remember the title at all. Once I did, it seems vaguely familiar. I don't know if we watched a few episodes and gave up on it, or if I'm confusing it with some other short-lived series featuring Brett Cullen. I like him as an actor, but nothing he's in seems to last very long.

Loyd Jenkins said...

I only watched a few of these; I enjoyed them, once I got the history part of my brain to shut up.

My father, who grew up on John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart Westerns loved it and never missed an episode. He even enjoyed some of the more PC parts, like the Kid being a woman.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw a few episodes and never failed to cringe at least once. You're a lot more forgiving than I, James.