TV Review: Strong Characters, Interesting Setting Elevate ‘Longmire’

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CHICAGO – Taking a modern day cowboy character from an Elmore Leonard novel and giving him his own show turned out to be a smart move for FX when they green-lit “Justified,” so one can hardly blame A&E for attempting a similar transition with Craig Johnson’s “Longmire” mystery novels, now a weekly series. Despite the obvious comparison with the Emmy-winning FX hit, that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism since this show completely stands on its own. It’s smart, fun, engaging, and remarkably well-written & performed.

HollywoodChicago.com TV Rating: 4.0/5.0
TV Rating: 4.0/5.0

Australian actor Robert Taylor (“The Matrix”) stars as the title character, Walt Longmire, the kind of rough, gruff Western sheriff that one wants on their side and never wants to cross. He’s the law in Absaroka County, Wyoming, which may not sound like much until you realize that it’s a bizarre crossroads of the world, an area in which Native Americans, hunters, rich people on vacation, poor locals, and more intersect. Longmire keeps it under as much control as possible. The premiere features the mysterious death of a sheep followed by the discovery of a body that leads to some buried secrets and a darker side of Absaroka County.

Longmire
Longmire
Photo credit: A&E

Walt Longmire isn’t on his own when it comes to crime-solving. He has a beautiful young deputy named Vic (Katee Sackhoff of “Battlestar Galactica”) and a somewhat sleazy one named Branch (Bailey Chase), who Longmire learns is running against him for sheriff. He also often turns to help from Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) when forced to navigate the treacherous waters of reservation regulations. Phillips is strong and Sackhoff is stellar. The former “BSG” star is such a perfect casting choice here because her remarkable beauty may first suggest an oil-and-water dynamic between her and Longmire but she takes the character in another direction, proving to be the old guy’s most reliable partner.

Longmire
Longmire
Photo credit: A&E

Longmire himself is a spectacular character. Think Tommy Lee Jones in “No Country For Old Men” but with a bit more of a sense of humor. Longmire is an instantly engaging character, the kind of strong hero that you want to see catch the bad guys and have a drink with later that night. He’s the kind of old-fashioned, iconic character that TV used to produce far more often than it does today and there’s something refreshing about such a strong personality (and performance) anchoring the mystery genre, one that long ago gave up on character in favor of DNA results and twist endings.

But Longmire is no mere archetype. Just when you think he can be broken down to nothing more than the sterotype of the last generation in which not everyone has a cell phone, the writers and Taylor’s performance throw you a character-driven curve ball like the remarkable scene in which Longmire has to inform a woman of the passing of her husband. It’s a practice — death notification — that most procedural/mystery series ignore but the writers here use it to deepen their title character, a to-this-point stolid man who has an emotional response to the notification. It turns out that Longmire lost his wife a year ago and the wounds are still very fresh. Scenes between the man and his daughter (Cassidy Freeman) don’t distract from the mystery but deepen the fabric of the overall show.

I really wish I had more than one episode of “Longmire” to review since I can’t say for sure where it goes from here. It could easily step back and just be another mystery-of-the-week program and that would be disappointing. On the other hand, if they keep up with the character-driven foundation of the premiere, it could easily be one of the best shows of the summer. The potential for a spectacular series is definitely there and the premiere certainly passes the ultimate test of a series debut — I’m definitly going to watch week two. You should too.

“Longmire” stars Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bailey Chase, Cassidy Freeman, and Adam Bartley. It premieres on A&E on Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 9pm CST.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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