by Doug Snauffer
As the TV landscape continues to diversify, it’s nice to know there’s still room for an old-fashioned show like Longmire — even though it’s survival has included a number of last-minute reprieves.
Based on the novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson, Longmire is best described as a modern-day Western. It’s protagonist, Sheriff Walt Longmire (Australian actor Robert Taylor), upholds the law in Absaroka County, Wyoming. Walt is a widower who lives in a small secluded cabin on the edge of the Big Horn Mountains.
When he’s not on the job, he spends his free-time drinking Rainier beer and pining over his recently deceased wife. When he’s on the job, Walt Longmire is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a large man who — as far as Western lawmen go — is reminiscent of Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon (Although at 6’7″, James Arness had 5 inches on Taylor.). Walt is capable, strong-willed, dedicated, and has proven to be hard to kill — even by short-sighted TV executives.
Longmire debuted on A&E in June of 2012, and continued to play as a summer series the following two seasons. It was A&E’s highest-rated scripted program, pulling in an average of 3.7 million viewers each week during it’s third season.
Then in August of 2014, just as it’s third season was coming to a close, A&E shocked Longmire devotees by cancelling the show. They explained that despite it’s impressive numbers, “the series found its largest audience amidst a specialized demographic.” In other words, 3.7 million people may have been watching Longmire, but they were the wrong 3.7 million people. They were over the age of 34.
They proved to be a surly lot, however. Fans rallied back in one of the most comprehensive protests ever geared towards the cancellation of a TV series. Meanwhile, Longmire‘s production company, Warner Horizon Television, began looking for a new home for their show.
They sent proposals out to all the major players, but from the start they were eyeing either Amazon or Netflix. Their efforts were soon rewarded. Just a scant three months after A&E’s surprise cancellation, Netflix picked Longmire up for a fourth season, which premiered in the fall of 2015.
A fifth round of episodes in the fall of 2016 received a warm welcome by fans, who binge-watched the season in large numbers. Rumors had begun to circulate over the summer that these would be the final batch of episodes, but once again the program persevered, and the streaming service officially announced a six go-round of Longmire was in the works for 2017.
Walt’s posse includes sassy deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), who harbors romantic feelings towards her boss, deputy Jim ‘Ferg’ Ferguson (Adam Bartley), a dedicated officer often inapt in his duties, Walt’s daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), an attorney who is every bit as pertinent as her dad, and Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), owner of the Red Pony bar and Walt’s best friend and confidant.
Absaroka County is also home to a Cheyenne Indian reservation, where local businessman and resident villain Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez) has just opened a gambling casino that Walt fears is a front for illegal activity. Malachi Strand (Graham Greene) is Chief of Security for the casino, and Mathias (Zahn McClarnon) is head of the tribal police.
Rounding out the Longmire universe is Ruby (Louanne Stephens), Walt’s office manager and dispatcher, Travis Murphy (Derek Phillips), a naïve, near-do-well deputy-wannabe who has somehow managed to steal Victoria’s affections, and Dr. Donna Sue Monaghan (Ally Walker), a psychiatrist introduced in season 4 who has awakened feelings of passion in Walt for the first time since the death of his wife.
Longmire is a far cry from most TV crime procedurals. It’s filmed largely on outdoor locations at a deliberately slow place, and the scripts rely heavily on character development. It consists of 10-episode seasons (with the exception of it’s second year, which contained 13). But the writing is above par and the story arcs (typically one major thread per season) are intriguing and satisfying.
The characters are all multidimensional and exhibit self-destructive behavior. They’re as much a threat to themselves as any of the contemporary outlaws they go up against. Walt has a need to do things his own way, whether he’s acting within the bounds of the law or not — and his deputies tend to take their leads from him.
I do have one problem with the series, however. With Walt, Vic, and Ferg so wrapped up in their cases, I have to wonder who is handling other police business. Don’t they ever write speeding tickets?
Production on Longmire is set to resume in March, and the new season should begin streaming this fall. But word has already begun to float that these next 10 episodes will be — yeah, that’s right — the series’ last. We’ll see what Walt Longmire has to say about that.
TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Douglas Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about him HERE