LONGMIRE: If the pilot is any indication, A&E has a real winner

This Sunday, A&E debuts a new series called LONGMIRE. Based on the work of author Craig Johnson, LONGMIRE focuses on Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) , a Wyoming  Sheriff and his deputies. The show starts a year after the death of Walt’s wife and Walt is sleep-walking through work and life.

As the pilot starts, Walt receives a call (ok, multiple calls) from Vic (Katee Sackhoff formally BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Starbuck), a deputy that has been called in on her day off. Walt ignores the calls until the final: Walt, we got a body.

Walt heads out, with his thermos and rifle, and so begins LONGMIRE. The series essentially starts with Walt stepping back into the both his job and the world around him. It is my impression that the series will see Walt reconnect with friends, family and the community he has spent a lifetime serving.

The pilot finds Walt looking for a Cheyenne teenager that appears to be working as a prostitute out of a local brothel on wheels. He realizes just how much has changed as he knew nothing of it and is more than a little shocked to find out about it. This realization is aided by comments made by his daughter (Cassidy Freeman) and deputy Branch Connally.

The series also features Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s oldest friend. Henry understands Walt more than anyone else and is perhaps the only person that really understands where he is currently at and has waited for him to return to the living. As a Cheyenne, Henry often acts as a sort of liaison for Walt and the reservation.  Henry owns The Red Pony, a popular local watering hole.

Also on board is Baily Chase (SAVING GRACE) in the role of Deputy Branch Connally. Branch is challenging Walt for the office of Sheriff. he is handsome and a tad arrogant, but his complaints that Walt has been a less than attentive sheriff are not off base. It is likely that his decision to run for sheriff will play a major role in motivating Walt to step up and fight for his job. Branch is looking to bring the office into the 21st century, but lacks the old school knowledge that Walt so effectively employs.

My thoughts:
Right off the bat, the shows takes a “show, don’t tell” approach. Too many programs try to explain everything in the clearest terms possible, assuming the audience needs it spelled out for them. With nary a word, the opening establishes that Walt is worn down and suffering. Before we find out his wife is dead, we get the impression that she has either left or passed away. I honestly think the opening scene is world class in that it conveys so much without dialogue (Well, there are some phone messages, but that is it.). The actors and allowed to act and not merely use the lines of the script to

The land of Wyoming is put front and center. A few years ago, I wrote about the pilot of THE GLADES. A major complaint I had was that the show did not take advantage of the distinct characteristics of Southern Florida. This does the opposite and the state is put front and center, offering up a rich backdrop for these characters and stories. If a show is going to be set outside of the stereotypical major city, it makes sense to use the setting to your advantage. Longmire does just that.

It is pretty clear that Chase’s Branch Connally will be a bit of a foil and antagonist for Walt. That said, initial impressions of him are not entirely negative and his perspective makes sense. I was very pleased to not have your standard asshole opposite the hero. Rarely in the real world are folks good or bad, yet television all too often settles for writing them as such. Here, we get a smart crime drama with fleshed out characters that step beyond the arch-types and are going to evolve as the series goes on.

I found LONGMIRE very entertaining and, after just one episode, felt I have a handle on each of the major characters. The actors all filled the roles with ease and even though I have read two of the books, I had no problem accepting them in their roles. It is a procedural, that is clear, and I have no doubt that most episodes will see a crime solved before the credits roll. But the characters presented are interesting and it also looks like there will be secondary plots that will span the season. For me, this is not about the mystery, but the characters and setting. Those two things caught my attention and made me take notice.

If the pilot is any indication, A&E has a hit on their hands. Make a point of watching LONGMIRE at 9pm cst.