Harts of the West premiered in September of 1993, ran for 15 episodes on CBS, and rode off into the west in June of 1994. It's a mild-mannered and obvious fish-out-of-water concept with a half-decent cast and an amiable disposition, but were it not for the fact that Harts producers Donald Kushner & Peter Locke now run a fairly successful DVD outfit, this series would never have seen the light of a DVD release.
Yes, Kushner/Locke presents all 15 episodes of Harts of the West, a harmless but ultimately unsatisfying blend of obvious comedy, maudlin emotion, and some seriously overaged plot conventions. Should you consider yourself a big fan of Beau Bridges and his papa, Lloyd, you'll find lots to like here. The background is suitably populated with colorful folks like Talisa Soto, Stephen Root, and Saginaw Grant, but they're given annoyingly little to do.
Beau Bridges plays Dave Hart, a former business executive so in love with the Old West that he named his children Zane, Duke, and L'Amour. Yes, seriously. After suffering a "cardiac episode," Dave awakens inspired to follow his dreams.
So he buys a rundown dude ranch in Nevada, forces his family to move, and slowly settles in with the colorful citizens of Sholo County (population 90). That's pretty much it: sort of a modern-day and more neurotic switcheroo on The Beverly Hillbillies, and every bit as unique as that description implies. The show earns a few points for its intermittently amusing banter and witty rejoinders, but they often make way for something really corny or really trite.
While certainly not an outright awful program, Harts of the West should appeal to only the most passionately devoted western fans, those who adore actors named Bridges, and really bored housewives with nothing better to watch. The midlife crisis angle is milked rather recklessly, and the weekly adventures generally waver between "fitfully entertaining" and "drearily predictable."
1. Pilot -- The Harts discover that the Sholo, Nevada spread they've bought is a run-down former dude ranch populated only by an againg cowpoke named Jake. (Original airdate: 09/25/93)
2. The Right Stuff -- Dave has something to prove - to himself and his family - after a champion rodeo clown he hired to help break wild mustangs ends up charming Alison and the kids instead. (10/02/93)
3. Guess Who's Coming to Chow? -- A prairie-dog infestation at the Tumbleweed has Dave squirming as does a visit from Alison's intimidating mom, whom Dave promptly fixes up with "gentleman" Jake to squire her around Sholo, and with luck, into the sunset. (10/30/93)
4. Jake's Brother -- Jake's hotheaded brother, Zeke, a Western romance writer returns to Sholo, threatening to kill Jake in a shoot-out at high noon. (12/25/93)
5. Dead Man's Leap -- R.O. is zapped by lightning and soon develops many personalities, one of which is Dave's late father. Meanwhile, Zane disobeys his dad by accompanying some new friends to Dead Man's Leap, where he's challenged to jump across the gap. (11/06/93)
6. Goodnight Irene -- Sheriff R.O. looks for clues leading to a suspect in the murder of Garral's beloved bovine Irene, which dropped dead while Garral was painting her portrait. Alison gets the urge to work, while Duke's more interested in being a cowboy than a student. (11/13/93)
7. Home Alone -- Rose boots R.O. who moves into the Flying Tumbleweed. L'Amour learns Alison posed for a lingerie catalog, while Duke has a problem with horses, and Zane tries to help him over it. (01/22/94)
8. Cowboyz in the Hood -- Like it or not, Dave gets a tough inner-city youth as a ranch hand, thanks to Marcus, who believes that equestrian therapy will turn the kid's life around. (12/04/93)
9. Auggie's End -- As Auggie turns 60, he announces he's going to die - on the Harts' property, where his late wife is buried. But Dave wants him to stick around to help Duke win a sheep-shearing contest. (12/11/93)
10. Ghost Run -- Dave vows to win Sholo's Frontier Days Ghost Run buckboard race, but once Alison enters the contest - partnered with a headstrong frontier widow - Dave is up against a formidable opponent. (01/08/94)
11. Hart's Vacation -- The Harts' family vacation in the countryside turns into a series of disasters, including a mine-shaft accident, a marauding bear, and wild tornadoes. (01/29/94)
12. You Got to Have Hart -- Cowboy Dave takes the bull by the horns and joins the competition to restore Sholo's luster in the annual rodeo. Meanwhile, a dashing rodeo Romeo sets L'Amour's spurs to jingling. (01/15/94)
13. Jake and Duke's Excellent Adventure -- On his 10th birthday, Duke embarks on a rite of passage out on the range with "prairie elder" Jake. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Alison and Dave contemplate the imminent threat of parenthood, and Zane misinterprets Cassie's motives. (06/18/94)
14. Back in the Panties Again -- Dave may be forced back into the rat race after the ranch's well runs dry and his former boss pays him a visit in Sholo. Meanwhile, Zane falls for a lingerie model. (06/04/94)
15. Drive, He Said -- Spurred by a dispute with a greedy cattle driver, the greenhorn Harts and town volunteers embark on their own cattle drive to deliver a herd of steers to Carson City - and to preserve a Sholo way of life. (06/11/94)
(Episode synopses come from the DVD cases, and yes, it seems that the episodes are being presented out of their original broadcast order -- not that it really matters all that much. This ain't Deadwood we're talking about.)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original full frame format, and the picture quality is pretty solid for a 15-episode obscurity from 1993.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which works just fine.
Harts of the West works best when it's going for the witty barbs and clever banter. Unfortunately the 15 episodes are all but riddled with strained ideas and painfully conventional plot constructions.