Craig Johnson’s eighth venture out with Walt Longmire, As the Crow Flies won’t be near the last we’ll see of the sheriff of Absaroka County Wyoming if the attention the new A&E original series Longmire is getting counts for anything. The hour long drama premieres Sunday, June 3 and will introduce many newcomers to the richly detailed fictional county in the country’s least populated state.
Walt’s duties as sheriff have him policing an area near the size of Maryland with a skeletal, (if colorful and sometimes contentious) staff and surrounded on three sides by sovereign native American nations. The Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribal lands each come with their own governing bodies, cultural pride and spiritual traditions as well as every common human denominator from nobility and wisdom to avarice and corruptibility, and walking the nuanced line in jurisdiction and jurisprudence prove to be areas of particular specialty for Walt.
As is always the case with a popular long-running work, fans (of the books) want to read their cake and watch it too. On the one hand, they’re eager to see their favorite books have the bright light of film mediums shone upon them to validate the author’s good work and their own good taste, but gosh, once you commit those characters, locales and plotlines to pictures it’s inevitable somebody’s gonna be unhappy with the treatment their most specialist books got.
The Longmire books are populated with a large cast of lovingly rendered and memorable characters, but hung, for the most part, on the trinity of Walt, his best friend Henry Standing Bear and deputy Victoria Morretti. Stepping into the titular role is Robert Taylor (no not that guy) a relative unknown, but a twenty-plus year veteran and he holds the screen with a laconic ease that belies the knots of tension and pockets of energy waiting beneath the surface for employment in another hard day on a hard job, while Lou Diamond Phillips, as Henry, pops with a gregarious cocksurity and plays his keen insights close to the vest, but probably the choice that’s going to initially rankle the devoted is towheaded Katee Sackoff on basic cable playing the Italian, dark complected and raw-tongued Vic.
A word to the rankled – chill out. Sackoff’s got the physicality for the role and the fire in her eyes to make up for the spicy vocabulary she won’t get to exercise on the teevees. And y’know, she probably isn’t too concerned about you nerds. She’s already dealt with the same issue and handily triumphed when she stepped into Dirk Benedict’s smoky cloak to play Starbuck on the reboot of the sci-fi classic Battlestar Galactica. You mystery nerds don’t touch sci-fi nerds for fiery invective when caught noodling with semi-sacred cows. You try changing the sex of a beloved character. After that, hair color just doesn't seem so threatening.
Where Justified’s Raylan Givens is crafty, but hot headed, Walt is cool till it’s time not to be and the anger roiling beneath Raylan (in the show at least - not so present in the Elmore Leonard books) contrasted with the wounded nobility of Walt is only the first penciled line of demarcation between these two televised modern Westerns, though comparisons are inevitable. Plenty of room on the box for more, and plenty more to come from Craig Johnson.
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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