Longmire: TV Review

A&E Network
A grizzled sheriff, a Philly transplant and a whiff of the West fuel Longmire.

It's no "Deadwood," but it's a Western and that might be all that matters for this new A&E series starring Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff.

It’s very hard to make a great Western. The last of its kind was Deadwood on HBO, which went off the air prematurely in 2006.

But the good news for networks and cable channels looking to make a Western – and at one point there were at least five in development, not counting AMC’s Hell On Wheels which finished its first season and A&E’s Longmire, which airs tonight – is that viewers don’t necessarily want a great Western. They are actually a pretty easy bunch to satisfy.

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Until the saturation point makes everyone long for something truly brilliant, the standard seems to be, “Just put one on the air and we’ll watch.”

This is fantastic news for Longmire, airing tonight at 10 on A&E. It has all the hallmarks of a Western – a sheriff that looks like he came out of Central Casting as grizzled as can be, a Wyoming location that also can incorporate a nearby American Indian reservation and the barren landscape that attracts strong-willed individuals who just might break the law.

But what Longmire is mostly is a standard procedural – something television frankly has too much of. Longmire comes from four people who helped create and shape The Closer (Greer Shephard, Michael Robin and writers Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny), so depending on your aesthetic value of The Closer you might think Longmire is going to be great or something passably interesting that will air for a long time.

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One episode, which is all that A&E sent for review, just isn’t enough to be definitive on either count. But from the pilot, the guess here is that it will be an entertaining hour that smells like a Western but is several galaxies away from Deadwood.

Longmire does, however, have Katee Sackhoff, which solves so many problems. More on that momentarily.

Based on the Walt Longmire Mystery novels of Craig Johnson, the series stars Australian actor Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, resident sherrif of a small county in Wyoming who was widowed a year prior to the audience meeting him. He’s a man still in mourning, though he’s mostly too tough to let that show. His adult daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman) is worried about him because he’s drinking a lot of beer – Ranier, if you’re wondering, and you won’t be for long when you see the pilot which is essentially product placement for the beer – and letting his house get messy. It’s true, though, that Walt has been a bit depressed and out of it for the past year, delegating much of the police work to his ambitious deputy Branch (Bailey Chase) and his other very green deputy known as “The Ferg” (Adam Bartley).

Sackoff is a Philadelphia cop who has been part of Walt’s team for less than six months (the pilot doesn’t explain why she left Philly for Wyoming). It doesn’t really matter. Fans of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica understand inherently that Sackhoff can make any hour fly by and that’s probably reason enough to check out (and maybe hang out with) Longmire.

Also starring in the series is Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Walt’s longtime friend Henry Standing Bear, who owns a local restaurant/bar and looks to be Walt’s only ally when dealing with the Indian reservation.

For his part, Taylor is instantly perfect as Longmire. You never doubt for a second that he’s smart, intuitive, anti-technology, a true cowboy in the modern world and also a weary warrior who might be prone to the blues – and Ranier – now that his wife has died. That is to say, if you want a Western where the lawman has some history and some depth, Taylor fills the need with ease.

Unfortunately, the pilot seems to suggest that Longmire is just a procedural with a lot of dirt and dust on it.  There's going to be a crime, maybe a murder, that will be solved in an hour. There won't be any Shakespeare like Deadwood had. Pluse, there's no riveting evil out there as daunting as No Country For Old Men and we’re a long way from both the era and the genius of the aforementioned Deadwood.

Which means nothing, ultimately. People love Westerns – of almost any ilk. Once AMC failed to bring greatness to Hell On Wheels, what was left to hope for? Maybe a solid Western-ish offering like Longmire will be good enough. Viewers might fall in love with Walt Longmire. Many of them – here’s one hand way up – are already in love with Sackhoff. And it’s better than just another generic police procedural set in New York.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

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