Latest Netflix binge: ‘Longmire’

As some of you may know, I’m not one of those snobby book people who looks down on television and movies. On the contrary, I love a good film or dramatic TV series. 

And there is a lot of good storytelling on TV nowadays, in the serial format. (Movies are more hit and miss, with all the lame superhero remakes; but I digress.)

I recently watched the complete Longmire series on Netflix, which originally ran from 2012 to 2017. Based on the novels of Craig Johnson, Longmire is the story of a modern-day Western sheriff, charged with maintaining law and order in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.

A  good series, on the whole, though six seasons made it one or two seasons too long. In television, as in other areas of life, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.

The show’s Wyoming setting is distinctive, and that adds plenty of depth. But that distinctiveness comes at a price: Longmire had become rather repetitious by the sixth season. Only so much can happen in a rural county in a thinly populated state, after all.

One of the show’s consistent tropes was the simmering distrust between the local whites and the Native Americans on the nearby reservation (or “rez”, as it’s called in the show). The Native Americans are alternately portrayed as corrupt schemers, and hapless victims of “the White Man”. (Cue eye roll.) I didn’t object to these storylines on the grounds of either political correctness or anti-wokeness. It just got a little old, after a while.

These were interspersed with episodes in which a white person (usually the titular Sheriff Walt Longmire, or his adult daughter) was inducted into some mystic aspect of Native American culture. That one was already long in the tooth when Kevin Costner did it in Dances with Wolves, in 1990. (Much as I enjoyed that movie.)

This was combined with Lou Diamond Phillips’s portrayal of Henry Standing Bear, a Sioux who, in twenty-first century America, speaks in awkward sentence structures. Henry Standing Bear never uses contractions, for example.

All Longmire needed was a stagecoach robbery to add to the Wild West clichés. There were a few saloon brawls, though.

And speaking of Walt Longmire: Longmire is a more badass version of Joe Pickett, the modern-day Western lawman of C.J. Box’s very similar book series. (Remember that Longmire was originally conceived on the printed page, not on the television screen.)

But sometimes Walt Longmire presses his tough-guy schtick too far, engaging in acts of law enforcement overreach that would shock even the good Republican voters who dominate the electorate in Wyoming. Yet another over-indulgence in a Wild West trope.   

On the positive side, Longmire was graced with good acting and memorable secondary characters. I particularly liked Katee Sackhoff’s portrayal of Deputy Victoria Moretti. 

Longmire was a good show, for the most part, and I enjoyed watching it.  But it would have been better as a four-season series with fewer clichés, and fewer boilerplate episodes. Not every show should run for a full six seasons.