For readers of Craig Johnson’s series of books about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire, the A&E TV series version of the show was something of a challenge at first.
In the first season, two years ago, so many elements from Johnson’s quirky, gritty, mystical and funny series of crime novels seemed … “off.” Longmire and longtime friend Henry Standing Bear didn’t seem old enough (in the books they’re Vietnam veterans; in the series they’re played by middle-aged hunks Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips) for the well-worn characters they are; the ever-changing roster of deputies was pared down; the relationships were streamlined and the early books’ Philadelphia subplots were gone.
But so many things were so right. Taylor and Phillips are great, gruff and sardonic by turn; Katee Sackhoff was letter-perfect as Deputy Vic Moretti, as was Cassidy Freeman as Walt’s daughter, lawyer Cady, and Adam Bartley as “The Ferg,” a deputy holdover from the books; and Bailey Chase initially seemed written just to be antagonistic as deputy Branch Connaly but quickly grew to portray a complex character.
The entire series, in fact, grew. Creators and producers John Coveny and Hunt Baldwin quickly seemed to realize they needed to import Johnson’s storylines, at least to some degree, and even more importantly adopt the mood the author invokes in his books: The stories are set in a Wyoming that is by turns beautiful, hard, cold, hot, parched, magical and gritty.
As the third season begins, I’m glad to say that “Longmire” has maintained the successful mix that Coveny and Baldwin began refining shortly after the show got on its start.
Longmire himself, as played by Taylor, is crusty and deceptively straightforward but has a real edge to him. Henry – in jail in connection with the death of the man who killed Longmire’s wife – is struggling to survive and might become a pawn in a larger game. And the deputies are in turmoil, as always.
At the same time, “Longmire” does well with its plots of the week. most recently Walt and Vic’s crusade to bring to justice the person responsible for the death of a Russian teen whose body was found in a Wyoming creek.
Her murder involved international adoption, foster parent scam artists and Walt’s smoldering sense of outrage.
I’m still missing the absence of the Philly connection in the series and I regret the mystery of Walt’s wife’s death – a complication that’s not in the books but was probably necessary to give the series more of an over-arching mystery storyline – but almost everything else about “Longmire” the TV series works.
Oh yeah, one element I’m missing this season: Madchen Amick as Dena, Henry’s girlfriend. The former “Twin Peaks” star appeared last year in a few episodes. So far this year it’s been mentioned in an aside that she stole money from Henry’s safe. Here’s hoping that means she will show up eventually and that the comment isn’t a way of writing her out of the series.