“Justified” minus the Dixie mafia swagger? Not quite, though close, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that when you heard about A&E’s new drama “Longmire”, which stars Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, the grizzled Sheriff of a Wyoming County called Absaroka that looks to have more sheep than it does people. Based on the series of novels by Craig Johnson, the “Longmire” pilot opens with a murder in the snowy mountains, and from there, introduces us to its cast of characters and life in a wide open county.
Thanks to the holstered gun, boots, and cowboy hat, Walt Longmire brings to mind “Justified’s” Raylan Givens. (By the way, without the cowboy hat Taylor kinda looks like a disheveled Will Ferrell.) But Longmire is much older, more seasoned, and not quite as easy to fly off the handle. In fact, it takes a lot to rile up ol Longmire. In the pilot, our hero nearly breaks down while telling a woman that her husband is dead, gets into a silly car accident like some senile old-timer, suddenly discovers that one of his deputies is trying to take his job behind his back. And oh yeah, just for laughs, he gets punched out by a fellow cop, even though he fully expected it to happen. And that’s in the first 20 minutes! If all of that had happened to Raylan Givens, you can expect at least two dead bodies, minimum.
Longmire’s investigation leads him to a missing girl from the Indian Reservation, which is quite the dilemma for the Sheriff, as White Man’s Law has no jurisdiction within “The Res”. Thankfully, Longmire has an Indian buddy name Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips), who is always around to lend a helping hand. The two have known each other for 37 years, but a sudden discovery may mean no 38th year for the childhood buddies. Also helping out the Sheriff is Victoria “Vic” Moretti (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Katee Sackhoff), a former Philadelphia Homicide cop who has somehow found herself in the middle of Nowheresville, Wyoming. Sackhoff and Taylor have great chemistry, and of course we’ll be learning more about Vic in subsequent episodes. For now, she’s a bit of a mystery — how did a Philly Homicide cop name Moretti end up working as a Deputy in Wyoming, anyway?
Walt Longmire is definitely an old fashioned hero, a much more mellow, pathos-inclined Raylan Givins, if you will. Long on patience, experience, and as it turns out, heartache, he’s an intriguing character to follow around. When we first meet him, he’s still suffering from a personal loss, something that has kept him hidden from colleagues, his job, and a daughter (“Smallville’s” Cassidy Freeman) who is concerned for his well-being, and justifiably so, as it turns out. Casting Robert Taylor, who is middle age, was a brave move on the part of the producers. I could imagine they must have felt some pressure to cast a younger man in the role. And if they had, “Longmire” just wouldn’t be the same show.
What will really make “Longmire” stand out from the pack is its setting. The emptiness and political powderkeg of life alongside an Indian reservation should lend itself to a very different set of criminals, the same way that “Justified’s” backwoods Kentucky setting allowed it to tell the kind of crime stories that just don’t appear in regular TV cop shows. What’s the difference between the “CSI” shows and the “Law and Order” shows? The cast. What’s the difference between a show like “Justified” and “Longmire” and those aforementioned franchises? A whole ‘nother solar system.
Taylor strikes a great balance of invincibility and vulnerability as Longmire, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well. Sackhoff’s Vic makes the biggest impression in the hour pilot, but that’s probably because she has the most screentime besides Taylor. Bailey Chase as the charming, back-stabbing Deputy Branch Connally is easily hateable. Hell, even that name, “Branch”. I mean, who names their kids Branch? Lou Diamond Phillips slips in and out of the pilot whenever Longmire needs an extra hand, and is easily the show’s most prominent castmember. He’s an old pro, and should lend a lot of stability to the show.
“Longmire” is set to make its debut on the A&E Channel on June 3rd.
CAST: Robert Taylor … Walt Longmire
Lou Diamond Phillips … Henry
Katee Sackhoff … Victoria Moretti
Adam Bartley … The Ferg
Bailey Chase … Branch Connally
Cassidy Freeman … Cady Longmire