June 5, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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It’s a paradox of American pop culture of the moment that you can barely sell a movie ticket for anything that even smells like a western (Cowboys & Aliens and John Carter were the most recent to discover that), but the older TV audience flocks to the genre.  Hatfields & McCoys was a blockbuster hit for History last week, and early indications are that A&E’s new LONGMIRE could be a solid success for the network.  And a western is what Longmire is, despite the SUVs and cell phones in use.


Cell phones in use, that is, except by Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) himself.  Walt is such an old-school sheriff that it’s remarkable he doesn’t put a saddle on his SUV when he rides it into Absaroka, Wyoming, where he’s the law in town.  Walt is taciturn to a fault, and tough but fair.  He has no patience for newfangled nonsense like modern communications or ballistics tests–he knows what he knows, and he’s always right.  The only thing that makes Walt human at this point is that his wife died exactly a year ago, and he was so broken up by her death that he could barely come into work.  (However, those beer cans in his car aren’t because he’s been drinking in his grief, but because even in his distraught state, he hates littering so much that he’s been stopping his car to pick them up off the street.  No, really.)

In its pilot, at least, written by Hunt Baldwin and John Coveney (based on a series of novels by Craig Johnson), and directed by Christopher Chulack, Longmire could hardly be a more generic procedural.  Baldwin and Coveney are both veterans of The Closer, and that’s not the most original show in the world either, but there’s enough zing in the character of Brenda Leigh Johnson, and especially in Kyra Sedgwick’s playing of the part, to give it some distinctiveness.  So far that’s not evident in Walt Longmire, and although Taylor gives a very workmanlike performance, there’s nothing extraordinary about his work either.

The Closer also works because of a first-rate supporting cast.  Longmire has a couple of promising characters, or at least characters played by strong actors.  Katee Sackhoff, who hasn’t managed to parlay her terrific Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica into a leading role, plays “Vic” Moretti, a former Philadelphia homicide cop who’s come west for reasons we don’t yet know, and Lou Diamond Phillips is Walt’s best friend Henry, who owns the local bar.  The rest of the regulars are Walt’s other deputies, notably Branch Connelly (Bailey Chase, from Saving Grace), who we know is a bad guy because he’s running against Walt for sheriff.  Maybe some of them will manage to make Longmire more interesting.

The pilot’s mystery is less than thrilling:  a stranger in town is found shot, and following his trail leads to an RV of prostitution where one of the girls has a tie to the victim.  There’s nothing especially clever about the methodical way the crime is solved–Walt just patiently travels from clue to clue, and we travel with him.  The show features some lovely mountain scenery, and that’s good, because there’s not much else worth concentrating on.

Sunday nights are currently the home to the very best of television drama:  Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Breaking Bad–and soon a new show from Aaron Sorkin.  But it’s also where less demanding hits like Army Wives and The Client List successfully congregate.  Longmire, based on its pilot, is designed for the men whose spouses are watching Army Wives in the next room.  Nothing in either show will challenge or surprise anyone, but at least the couple can bond via the pharmaceutical ads aimed at both audiences.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."