Television Review: ‘Longmire,’ on A&E, a Police Drama With a Western Twist

June 2nd, 2012

So much for American cultural dominance. Even our classic American characters aren’t made here anymore.

Ursula Coyote/A&E

Longmire Robert Taylor, wearing his big cowboy hat, plays the Wyoming sheriff of the title in this A&E series, which has its premiere on Sunday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

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Robert Taylor, an Australian, plays the title role in “Longmire,” a police procedural with a western twist that has its premiere Sunday night on A&E. Walt Longmire is a sheriff in Wyoming who doesn’t talk a lot, broods about his dead wife and has a big ol’ hat. Yeah, yeah, we’re part of a global economy now, but still, it’s dismaying to think that there was no American-born actor who could play this 21st-century John Wayne.

End of lament. Speaking strictly in performance terms, Mr. Taylor is perfectly adequate. His “laconic” is as good as it needs to be for a role that doesn’t demand a lot, at least in the premiere. And he seems able to deepen the portrayal if the writers let him. There’s a lot bothering this guy, and a lot we don’t know about that dead wife by the end of the opening episode.

The best thing about “Longmire,” which is based on the mystery novels of Craig Johnson, is that it looks and feels quite different from the urban cop shows that predominate on television. The Western scenery is a character here, and no one seems in a hurry either to solve the crime of the week or to dole out back stories for Walt and his pals.

They include a city-gal deputy named Victoria (Katee Sackhoff); another deputy named Branch (Bailey Chase), who we learn in the pilot wants Walt’s job; and Walt’s friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips in the cast’s most intriguing portrayal).

The change of pace and place may be enough to bring an audience to this series, whose behind-the-scenes brain trust includes producers from “The Closer,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Southland.” There is something re-energizing about seeing familiar dynamics in a different setting.

For instance, in an urban show there would be obligatory clashes between the city’s detectives and, say, the F.B.I. Here the feuding agencies are the sheriff’s department and the tribal police, and by the end of the premiere, you’re curious about how that enmity will surface in the future.

As for the mystery elements, the opening installment feels a bit thin. The discovery of a dead sheep leads to the discovery of a dead man, and Walt’s investigation uncovers a prostitution ring and a not very surprising suspect.

As the tale unfolds, some lazy choices are in evidence, which is alarming. You’d think that with the telegraph and the Internet and all, word would have reached even Wyoming by now that central figures in criminal investigations should not stand in front of windows during questioning when a sniper is known to be on the loose. Apparently not.

But if nothing else, the pilot efficiently sets up the series. All the characters who are introduced have plenty of places they could go. The question is whether the show’s creators are willing to take them there.

Longmire

A&E, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

Produced by the Shephard/Robin Company in association with Warner Horizon Television. Based on the Walt Longmire Mystery novels by Craig Johnson; Hunt Baldwin, John Coveny, Greer Shephard, Michael M. Robin and Christopher Chulack (pilot only), executive producers.

WITH: Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire), Katee Sackhoff (Victoria Moretti), Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear), Bailey Chase (Branch Connally), Cassidy Freeman (Cady Longmire) and Adam Bartley (the Ferg).

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