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Like Old Leather and Hot Coffee, "Longmire" is Comfortable and Warm

By Mike Roorda | TV Reviews | June 7, 2013 | Comments ()


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Not all television has to mean something, or speak to us in transformative tones that challenge the foundations we've laid in our lives. Sometimes there's joy to be found in just sitting down, pouring a stiff one, and watching something play out more or less the way you expect and hope it will. There are nights where I want to spend time with "Hannibal" or Walter on "Breaking Bad." Sometimes I want to be asked hard questions about Life, the nature of Evil and other Important Things. Others, I simply don't have the gas in my tank to do the heavy lifting that's required. It is for those nights, the "it's been a long week and man do I hope I have whiskey at home" evenings, that we've invented what we call the procedural. A procedural, as the name suggests, is simply a show whose central purpose is to make entertainment of the day to day workings of a particular profession. It's a drama about the procedure behind a certain career, and that career is almost always law enforcement. There's a glut of choices when it comes to this kind of programming. From the "Law and Orders" to the "CSIs" and all their imitative iterations, procedurals are very much a mainstay for most of the major networks. Their popularity and continued success stems from the fact that they're not particularly deep or evocative shows. They're light viewing fare, something you could watch while visiting your Nana, and by and large nobody will be offended. Every so often something, maybe not compelling but, more engaging than the typical "CSI: New City" comes along. In a genre that's a veritable wasteland for actors who only want to phone it in and cash a check, "Longmire" on A&E stands above the rest as something maybe not great, but definitely better than what you'd expect.

The production values on "Longmire" far outstrip that of the other genre competition. All of the CSI shows look like they've been lit by a traveling circus act. I can't tell you how many times I've been watching and while someone is being questioned the thing that I notice most is that the lights in the interrogation room are a nonsensical shade of pink, blue, green or some other color they don't sell actual light bulbs in. It may make for a more visually appealing scene, but I highly doubt the lighting inside of a NYC interrogation room actually resembles a strip club as much as we've been lead to believe. Longmire doesn't pull these visual stunts, or at least, they don't pull them nearly as often. The entire thing is incredibly naturally lit. They mimic or use sunlight wherever possible, and muted, dim and neutral interior lamps are utilized otherwise. The shot composition on Longmire also outstrips its contemporaries. "Law and Order" tends to go for the utilitarian approach. Often the characters, Benson or Stabler or whomever, are the only interesting things in the frame. Longmire, on the other hand, makes ample use of vast outdoor scenery and empty space in frame in order to establish setting and set an appropriate tone. The show looks, and feels, much like a western. The location (New Mexico standing in for Wyoming) mirrors that sentiment and is a welcome change from the big city settings that most other procedurals adhere to. Open spaces and nature sub in for crowded streets and parks. The show isn't doing much to break new ground in the genre, but they're doing their damndest to look different and that's something that I can appreciate.

The stories told on "Longmire" also tend to be threaded with more heart and flawed humanity than its competition attempts. They certainly aren't approaching any sort of a grand overarching statement on how the world works and our place in it, but neither are they simply limiting themselves to "this guy killed that one, and after we solve why we should think about seeing each other naked." So far they've done a great job with the story arch above the dead body of the week plots. Walt, the Sheriff played by Robert Taylor, is all whiskers, old leather and black coffee. An upright man who believes in the law and rigidly upholding it at all costs. His one moment of weakness occurred a few years back, and he's forced to continue the deception in order to keep serving the community he loves. Justice was meted out for the right reasons, but in the wrong way. Internally flawed and broken, Walt wears wears his silent stoicism like a cloak, hiding the unrest rumbling beneath the surface. While I've been very impressed with the story so far, I am not yet convinced they can maintain it over the long haul. I'm sure CSI used to be a lot more compelling before the cast went through it's 5th reshuffling and the plots began to shift from parody to farce. Longmire isn't perfect, but currently I'd much rather watch Walt and his partner Vic solve crimes in rustic Wyoming than sit through another big city precinct scene.

If you put Robert Taylor and Dennis Quaid (who was the Sheriff on another procedural western, the now cancelled "Vegas") in a room together I'd probably get their names mixed up over half of the time. The difference between them is, Taylor is convincingly grizzled and tired of all these youngsters and their sh*t, while Quaid looked like he was simply attempting to help his brother Randy pay some bills. I actually believe that Walt is a weary and increasingly aged man. He wears his struggles and loss in the lines on his face and the creases in the corners of his eyes. Taylor, while clearly the lead, is also the least known member of the cast. Katee Sackoff (former maybe angel and "Battlestar Galactica" space fighter pilot Starbuck) plays his partner from out of town. (Philly I think? I dunno why I think that. Maybe she mentioned a cheese steak once?) Lou Diamond Phillips plays his best friend Henry, an Indian living on the local reservation and tending bar. Both Phillips and Sackoff are serviceably convincing. Sackoff still overuses her exasperated look too often, but largely the two provide Taylor with enough to play off of and are a welcome reprieve to the "do they have a pretty face" method of casting other lesser procedural dramas tend to adhere to. (There's no way in hell actual people working in actual crime labs look more like yoga instructors than scientists.) Did I mention Starbuck is in this one? I did? Also, she's not an angel this time. So far.

I'm not suggesting that "Longmire" is a must see or a cultural touchstone. It isn't. What it does it does well and that is, primarily, tell a decent story wrapped in believable characters placed in a unique setting. It's the perfect low impact viewing called for by rainy afternoons or a crushing weekend hangover. You could probably take a light nap in the middle of an episode and still emerge on the other side knowing the broad episode beats and salient plot points. Its quieter, more deliberate pace is probably a knock against it for some. For me, the country drawl and dusty boots make it work. I'd highly recommend you give it a chance, and hell, if Nana's over for coffee you should probably invite her to watch as well.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • PatriciaDelicia

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this show! Everything about it -- especially the character, Walt. The timing and pacing of it is excellent. Great to watch the quiet of it. It's about time there was something that the young and the old could get into. My Mom (age 87) and I (won't tell you my age) watched it last Monday and Mom really liked it. Which is rare because Mom is usually only interested in PBS murder mysteries like Inspector Lewis and Frost. I was so excited to see it listed again in my TV Guide.

  • ProfMedia

    I enjoy the series, especially the slow pace which lets me sink into the fictional world. I haven't read the books (just ordered #1) but I would also like to see mystery plotlines stretched over a few shows. They do have the two ongoing narrative arcs of the election and the Denver mystery, but I 'd like to see the sheriffs really dig into and develop an investigation over several shows.

  • ferryman

    It's a fair show and I enjoyed the first season. I'm undecided whether to continue watching at this point though, as it's not exactly compelling.

  • Michelle Belden

    I really enjoy this show and thank the Pajiba for introducing me to it.

  • Viking

    I have read the first book and am almost done with the second. What I miss most in the TV show is the humor. Walt Longmire is witty, both his thoughts and words are frequently really funny. His exchanges with Henry, even when one or both of them are injured, are full of humor and affection. They are best friends, of a similar age, having served in Vietnam together. I like Walt in the books but I can not warm up to the angry, humorless version on the series.

    Vic could still have more teeth than the TV character without all the swearing. In spite of recent exceptions (Starbuck, Grace Hanadarko), I think networks are still afraid of female characters who are good at their jobs, especially when those jobs involve physical confrontations. When reading the books I picture the deputy from Eureka, Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra). Another possibility is maybe Katie Sackoff was concerned that if she was too much like the book character she'd be too much like Starbuck and get labeled as a one note actress. Although, Vic isn't self destructive and Starbuck definitely was.

    I was hoping the show would follow the books like Game of Thrones the show does: one season per book, more or less one crime solved per season. But the crimes are solved per episode, and it just doesn't make me eager to watch the next one, while the books are page-turners.

  • RilesSD

    I stumbled on this show when A&E had a season 1 marathon running. So glad I did. I love this show. It's the perfect summer afternoon programming. Taylor is Australian, same as my dad, so this hits home a bit for me.

    The show is definitely worth a try, and is a great compliment to the darker shows we're watching these days (Hannibal, GoT...).

  • Bodhi

    I have wondering about this, thanks for the review

  • alacrify

    I love this show, and I would have enjoyed your review more if you didn't feel you needed to be so pretentious about it. You seem to be trying to craft great prose in a cable TV show review. Tone it down a bit and I'll enjoy reading your reviews in the future.

  • alone in the dark

    I caught the show last when it was above-average summer fare. Turned me on to the books by Craig Johnson, which are *amazing.* Craig Johnson uses weather and terrain as characters in their own right. Taylor is the one member of the cast who completely embodies the character as portrayed in the book. The book-character of Vic Moretti is a little too spicy for serial television, and Henry Standing Bear is much more physically imposing, but Lou Diamond Phillips manages to dial in the wry humor of the character. If you enjoy the series, you must check out the books, especially "Hell Is Empty," which was the basis for the second-season opener.

  • alone in the dark

    I caught the show last *season*...

  • nixiepoo

    This show became 1 of my favs from day 1. I grew up loving westerns and this show reminds me of them. I hope it lasts.

  • Amanda

    And Grandma Saracen (Friday Night Lights) is his secretary. That sealed the deal for me.

  • Idle Primate

    I find it cosily watchable too. But I started watching it because of Sackoff and was pretty disappointed in what a weak bland chRacter they gave her to play. Take her character out and it changes nothing.

    The sherriffs sometimes tense friendship with LDP is definitely a highlight. And the dusty rolling roads

  • SomeDudero

    The "Dog Soldier" episode from season 1 was great, my favorite so far.

  • John W

    There must be clues hidden within the wrinkles of Longmire's face since they spend so much time with the camera 1 inch away from it.

  • JenVegas

    I've been recommending this show to friends based on all of the reasons you gave in this review. It's an oddly comforting show.

  • Julia

    Just finished Season 1 on Netflix and you did a great job of evaluating the show. I started watching because I love Katee Sackhoff, I continued watching because of Robert Taylor's performance. Definitely an above average procedural.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Longmire is also deeply flawed and frequently unpleasant. But realistically so... you can imagine him as the slightly cranky uncle that's damn good at his job that you like to spend time with even when he's kind of an asshole. I also like how he gets winded when he has to exert himself and he moves just a little bit arthritically... his age is catching up to him and you can tell it angers him.

  • DarkAvenger

    Great summary and articulates my own take on it as well.

  • JPlattim1933

    There must be clues hidden within
    the wrinkles of Longmire's face since they spend so much time with the
    camera 1 inch away from it.­ ­http://mybestfriendmakes65doll...

  • BlackRabbit

    Well, a wise man says that's how you can tell how many lives he's lived.

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