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Longmire Pilot review

Longmire is the kind of TV show that television used to be full of. The eponymous protagonist with a tough past and a ready quip, talking to people, unraveling a mystery and then riding off into the sunset. It’s a type of television that is almost as endangered as the Western and Longmire is both.

Longmire will be compared to Justified, but it doesn’t have much in common with Justified’s hipster frontier. It’s not knowing or self-aware. It isn’t aimed at viewers who want a postmodern soap opera, a True Blood, Game of Thrones, Sopranos or Justified, that is far enough away from Days of Our Lives to make them feel clever for watching it. It’s just a good old-fashioned sheriff  cop show. And it’s a good 40 minutes of television that reminds you that the old stuff works.

The cast isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough to it. The West fills out the landscape against which every great detective show takes place, whether it’s New York City or Hawaii or Singapore. And the stories take, what is obviously a series of mystery novels, and condense them into something that plays on TV for 40 minutes or less.

There’s Sheriff Longmire, the beleaguered lawman mourning his wife and fighting off a younger rival. Solving crimes by noticing things, instead of by calling in lab techs. There’s Katee Sackhoff’s tolerable Vic, as a homicide detective not working in a small country, who fills out the usual sidekick role. But mostly there’s a wide frontier full of cowboy chic from Indian pollongmire posterice to mounted elk heads, old wood and antique guns.

The pilot isn’t anything you haven’t seen hundreds of variations on. The mysterious murder victim whose life unrolls the secrets that led to his death. A young girl forced into prostitution. A setup and a gunfight. It’s everything you’ve seen in Hawaii 5-0, Vega$, The Fall Guy, McCloud and a hundred other TV shows. But it’s rendered clean and fresh. It’s not original and it doesn’t quite feel new, but it feels open in a way that most television doesn’t anymore.

Longmire isn’t great television, but it’s good television. I don’t give good odds for its survival, because like Terriers, the authentic detective show doesn’t play on cable television anymore. A detective can be neurotic and weird, because cable is supposed to showcase screwed up people, but the story has to be there just as a soapy arc to showcase more weird allies and villains. It can’t be something as clean and succinct as Longmire.

And yet Longmire is the perfect antidote to the CSI’s, Law and Orders and NCIS’s that took over free television and the hipster soaps that are one shade away from fifty shades of grey. It’s television as it used to be and it still has appeal. That’s why Tom Selleck’s bland take on Jesse Stone has been a surprising success for CBS. USA has managed to make the occasional detective show work. FX blew it with Terriers. Maybe A&E can hit a home run with Longmire.

Game of Thrones is True Blood in Medieval Drag

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If you want to see a glimpse of George R.R. Martin’s complex and epic fantasy series, it’s nowhere to be found in HBO’s Game of Thrones. But if you want to catch True Blood in medieval drag, it’s there and you’re welcome to it. But where True Blood’s campy soap may be a fair tribute to the original, Game of Thrones isn’t. Instead it maximizes the trashiest elements and wallows in them putting something that’s closer to Guccione’s Caligula than a quality production.

Watching the first 15 minutes that HBO put online, it’s easy to feel good about Game of Thrones. But that 15 minutes gives you about as much of the world building and the fantasy background as you’re going to get. It also gives you some of the better acting in the first episode. From there on in, it gets worse. Much worse.

No one involved with Game of Thrones seems to care much about establishing a plausible world, but they care even less about character background. And that quickly boils Martin’s complex intuitive tales about human vulnerability into a stream of bedhopping instead. Take the scene where Daenerys is told by her brother (one of the worst actors on the series) about her fate. What is a story about an abused young girl who is the heir to a lost kingdom on the page, loses all its context on screen for nothing more than a prolonged nude scene. When Daenerys says that she too wants to go home, the viewer assumes that she shares her brother’s motivation, but the reader knows that she only wants the small house where she lived for a while as refugees. The red door that was a symbol of her childhood is gone, and the 13 year old girl is aged enough that HBO can decontextualize what’s going on for a prolonged nude scene.

The rest of the first episode isn’t as bad, but it’s up there. Sean Bean is the name actor and the central redeeming factor. When he’s on screen the story has weight, but it doesn’t keep that weight for long when he’s off screen. The production tries to invest the northern life of the Stark clan with some authenticity, but it eagerly slips out to the bedhopping royals that it’s sure the audience really wants.

For an HBO series, the bad acting is surprisingly commonplace. But it’s not because so many of the actors are bad, but because the material isn’t being taken seriously. It’s True Blood in medieval drag, and too many of the actors treat it that way. There’s little suspense and unsubtle foreshadowing. The networks may be canceling the soaps, but HBO and Showtime are investing in a new kind of soap.

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