Review : New A&E Series LONGMIRE

Longmire A&E

L to R: Katee Sackhoff and Robert Taylor star in A &E’s new original drama series, “Longmire,” Credit: Ursula Coyote

A&E’s new drama series, LONGMIRE, premiered last night. The series centers around Walt Longmire, a sheriff who has been mourning the death of his wife for a year. As the “Pilot” begins, Walt is slowly starting to put things back together, realizing he has been neglecting his job. A dead body and a missing girl helps with the process. He may not be able to bring his wife back, but he can certainly try to save someone else’s girl. Which, of course, he does by the end of the hour.

LONGMIRE is based on a series of novels by Craig Johnson. Funny, then, that it feels like it’s a remake of an old television show. Actually, make that a number of old television shows. Part western, part crime procedural, LONGMIRE evokes a sense of nostalgia as the type of program one’s dad used to watch incessantly. Decades ago, there were many series like this on TV. Today, it stands alone. The fact remains: LONGMIRE owes its roots to a great many other projects which have come before it, with similar tones and mission statements.

While personal drama has never been lacking from the screen, LONGMIRE does show its modern pinnings when allowing the story to dwell on the titular character’s emotional depth. Other shows of this sort do allow some peek into the soul, but not to the degree that LONGMIRE does right out of the gate. Will LONGMIRE be a standard case-of-the-week deal, taking just a little time each week to explore the serial story and character development? Or will it be a character study, that just happens to solve crimes along the way? In the “Pilot,” it’s too early to tell, as the series seems unable to make up its mind. Given the television landscape, and the (lack of) quality of the network’s other projects, though, the smart money is on the former.

Robert Taylor (Satisfaction, MDA) enjoys playing Walt Longmire. Or if not, he certainly has this reviewer fooled. He chews through the scenes with aplomb. Which does not mean that he is the next Emmy-winning leading man. He is doing a fine job, to be sure, but not one that stands out; at least not yet. In fact, his character seems as much a throwback and tribute to past works as the main story itself, sadly. But, he is the driving force of each episode, so the series lives and dies based on the job that he does. In the “Pilot,” that effort is satisfactory, not superb. This leaves his room to grow, as there is the potential here to really shine, in time.

Unfortunately, because of the gigantic role Taylor plays, there isn’t much left for anyone else. Bailey Chase (Damages, Saving Grace) has the most to do as the young upstart who would like to replace Longmire as sheriff. He won’t succeed, of course, and Longmire is too classy to fire him. So he will probably remain an annoying distraction, likely not providing a real threat. However, this gives him more to do than any other supporting player, so Chase shouldn’t complain.

The rest of the others certainly have some heft to them, having all had successful runs in sci-fi series. Lou Diamond Phillips (SGU Stargate Universe) plays the local bartender and friend of Longmire’s for nearly four decades, which doesn’t stop Longmire from accusing him of wrongdoing when some kid implies that the barkeep might be guilty. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) is the young deputy who seems to have her boss’s back. Cassidy Freeman (Smallville) is Longmire’s daughter, who wishes she could fix her dad.

None of the three get to do anything of significance, which begs the question, why accept the roles at all? Is it to show a range, moving into a far different genre than the one they are famous for? If so, this is a failed experiment. They will probably not be given all that much range to show, merely serving as a distant second fiddle to the central character. There is much talent here that is so obviously being squandered in brief scenes and small bits of dialogue, that it makes LONGMIRE supremely frustrating to watch. LONGMIRE needs to become an ensemble piece to serve these people, and that just doesn’t seem like a probable scenario.

Overall, that makes LONGMIRE a mixed bag that has not found its path yet. After one episode, few shows do. Some retooling, and it could be a delicious, fulfilling drama that takes the best parts of classic television and gives them a much-needed update. But as it currently stands, it will fade into the background as something most people don’t even know exists. A shame, to be sure.

LONGMIRE airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.