Bearing Patiently with Longmire (for now)

Bearing Patiently with Longmire (for now) June 3, 2013

Longmire (A&E) Exec producer Hunt Baldwin, starring Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bailey Chase, and Katee Sackhoff

I admit it. I only started watching this show last season because I was a ridiculously obsessive fan of Battlestar Galactica (2003), and particularly the Starbuck character played so memorably by Katee Sackhoff, and Katee has a supporting role here. After I started watching Longmire, I discovered that the show was being produced by a long-lost ‘Hollywood friend’ of mine, Chris Donohue, whom I met working at Paulist Productions and then whom I followed when he ably managed the Humanitas Prize for several years. Because Chris had such foundational experience at Humanitas working with good writers, I was hopeful that Longmire would end up being a solidly written show.

Oh well. Not so far. We are just one episode into season two, but the season opener was confusing and felt like they ended up having to cut a few scenes that needed to be there at the end. More problematically, most of the show was spent pushing main character Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) from the dramatically sympathetic “man who struggles with his darkness” into the dramatically uncomfortable and un-admirable “man who has lost it and has weird out of body hallucinations.” There’s a reason Aristotle says that one of the elements to making a character relatable to an audience is “propriety.” No one wants to empathize with someone who is too weird to live.

The show-runners are clearly trying to correct a lack of depth in the show. All of last season felt like a show in search of a real cool premium-cable social commentary subtext. Unlike, say, Homeland – (all bow) – which has really big main story conflicts to foreground while the main character is falling apart, Longmire makes the dramatic mistake of, as Casablanca warned, trying to make the “problems of three little people” amount to more than “a hill of beans.” Story has to be first. Then, character. Especially on television where the main character can’t change so much that it would take them beyond the show’s bible. And even with all the character baggage stuff in Longmire, my feeling at the end of season one was that the writing wasn’t up to the job of dealing with it. There wasn’t a lot of real insight underneath all the character angst they were throwing at us. A lot of episodes were less fun and more “scratching my head and asking my husband, ‘uh what was that?’ and not in a good way.”

So sadly, the writing just isn’t there in Longmire which will doom it’s long-term prospects if they don’t pick up the level soon. The dialogue is often wince-worthy, and, in the case of Lou Diamond Philip’s (oh-so-politically-correct) wise Indian character, even painful in that they won’t let him use verbal contractions. The character keeps saying smart things in a dumb-sounding way. The supporting characters only seem like foils for Walt, and when the show does give them some story lines, it feels like flailing and not where the show really wants to be. The crime stories are usually predictable. And finally, unlike a great show like BSG (2003), there doesn’t seem to be any theme or subtext to Longmire at all.

Having said that, I’m not giving up on Longmire yet. There’s something in the look and arena of this show that raises it refreshingly above the way, way, way over-done procedural genre and I’m so hoping they correct the writing issues because I want to keep watching. The Santa Fe locations, which are supposed to be Wyoming, are nicely therapeutic, even if they are always revealing dead bodies. I am always watching episodes and thinking about taking a future vacation there. And then there is a great lead actor in Robert Taylor. And then there’s Katee who always seems to be huffing and puffing here, but perhaps it’s just because she’s trying to generate some kind of deeper level to her character. It must be hard for an actor to go from a brilliantly written show like BSG to one like Longmire that is always flirting with the pedestrian.

There’s a place for a show like Longmire on television today. It’s different, in a good way and so, despite everything I said above, I am recommending people check it out. Maybe if a lot more people start watching, they will bring in some better writers.

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