When it all comes down to it, Longmire is about an old sheriff sticking to the classic roots of his job and rejecting fancy new tech. And that's pretty much what the show is, too. The new A & E series is a throwback to hard-boiled detective stories (and should be, since it's based on one) and a duplicate of modern-day procedurals that have been shaped by years of television. That doesn't allow Longmire to do anything fresh, but like the title character, the old ways work and get the job done. It's just done in pretty unspectacular fashion.
Looking like a man who just stepped out of an ad for cigarettes, gruff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is broken and stubborn like a bull that refuses to be put out to pasture. At work, he's got a new city gal named Vic (Katee Sackhoff) by his side and a young whippersnapper looking to take his job as sheriff. At home, he's got dead wife he hasn't yet emotionally buried, and he still carries her ashes around in a box. None of this is anything new to your TV set. But at least the grumpy old man who doesn't like cell phones is portrayed well. Sheriff Longmire is immediately a likeable, if familiar, guy, and through the pain that hides behind his eyes and empty beer cans he earns our sympathy. Plus he's got some cool quirks, like an affinity for picking up trash because he doesn't like looking at litter (LITERALLY cleaning up the streets!).
But how much further can we ride with Walt Longmire beyond what we've seen? That's going to be the test for the series if it wants to spur on 'til it's completely gray, and I'm not sure I see Walt changing much. In fact I'm not sure there's anything in store for this series other than "Walt Longmire outsmarts kids using old-school techniques he learned from his grandpappy." Longmire is about generational divide, and to stay true to that premise Walt will have to stay the same. That can be enjoyable for the length of a movie, but as a series it's like being stuck in the mud. Time will tell, but the pilot didn't give me any indication that the rest of the show won't be more of the same. There is room for emotional healing, however, as Longmire gradually getting over his wife's death will likely the bulk of his character's arc. And somewhere beneath all that scruff are a lot of anger and a lot of love, both waiting to draw their guns. Once Longmire taps into that, it might find something worthwhile.
One thing I hope doesn't change is the whole look of Longmire. The shots of Wyoming (actually Taos and Santa Fe as clever, more affordable stand-ins) were like country porn, so beautiful and distracting that at times I forgot to pay attention to what was going on in the foreground. And the camera work isn't limited to just replicating postcards. If you watch the pilot again, pay attention to the close-up shots of Walter's boots as he moves from place to place. Those are shots of a man with work to do, something to prove, or a journey to take. That's what we call cable-quality camera action, pardner. Subtly telling a story with pictures.
The pilot's case involved Walt solving...a murder! There's some classic detective work going on here, but nothing too exciting, and that's where Longmire needed to stand out. We followed Walt as he picked up clues and chased leads, but there was no element of participatory crime-solving on the audience's part. I just felt as if I were along for the ride. This guy handed Walt a name, this gun was only owned by a few people, this pair of pants only fit this one dude; it was pretty standard, linear stuff.
And that's why Longmire may not be worth your time in the long run. It's nothing fancy and it's far from innovative. Those who like dusty trails and simple mysteries might get into it, but with so much else on TV Longmire won't stand out. It's not a bad effort by A & E, it's just not the show that will put the network on the original programming map.
– Fact: Sometimes Walt Longmire looks like Brett Favre in those Wrangler Jeans ads.
– Remember that part when Longmire stormed into Henry's bar and accused him of running the brothel? That seemed like very unnecessary forced tension. They've been friends for more than three decades and Walt just takes some young cowboy's word and assumes the guy's talking about Henry? That's either totally ridiculous or enters some "Walt is totally racist deep down inside" territory (which would actually be interesting).
– What did you all think of Katee Sackhoff as Vic? She may have finally found a post-Battlestar role that works for her.
– I liked the trimmed-down dialogue, especially Walt's. He doesn't say much, but what he does say is big.
– This series will obviously be compared to FX's Justified, but that show has legs up on Longmire in two key departments: dialogue and supporting characters.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom