"Longmire" is currently entering its third season on A&E. The first two seasons were issued on DVD only, much to the consternation of fans who like to own shows in HD (especially those that air on TV that way). With TV taking the biggest hit via iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix, that would usually be all she wrote, but Warner's MOD department has swooped in to save the day, bundling the first two seasons of the show together in a six-disc Blu-Ray set. This Warner Archive release consists of the first 23 episodes of the program, with the current season having hit the airwaves only a week or so ago as of this writing.
In Absaroka County, Wyoming, the city's entire police force consists of only a few people. Starting at the bottom, there's "The Ferg" (Adam Bartley), a kind-hearted big guy whose position on the squad is mostly a favor to deputies past. Next, Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) is a sharp young man with a handsome face and a drive to become the next sheriff. Then you've got "Vic" Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), the former homicide detective from the city who's starting to get a bit antsy in a small town. The sheriff himself, on the other hand, has spent the last year recovering from the death of his wife. At the urging of his fellow detectives, his close friend Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips), and his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is back on the horse. The question is, is he ready?
"Longmire" has had the bad luck of hitting TV in the middle of a TV renaissance, in which networks like AMC and FX are launching great, artistically thrilling series left and right, which defy the traditional time frame and narrative structure that TV normally adheres to. There's nothing particularly wrong with "Longmire", but even the pilot feels like a bit of a relic, one which leans heavily to old-fashioned character archetypes, established formulas, and other format-based cliches and tropes. I'm sure the program has legitimately dedicated fans, but it's hard to imagine the show's characters and stories grabbing the viewer the same way as "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men" do; although I'm sure plenty of fans are invested in the program (they will probably leave annoyed comments below), it seems like the kind of thing that most viewers pay idle attention to while doing other things.
Take Longmire himself, a character that feels as tired on paper as Taylor plays him right out of the gate. The dead family member trope is as old and tired as tropes get, and the biggest relief in the pilot is that the show gets Walt's grief out basically over the course of the one episode. Longmire's an old-fashioned guy who puts on a cowboy hat and does some old-fashioned reasoning, drives an old-fashioned truck, and, in the peak of his old-fashioned ways, refuses to own a cell phone. The best episodes, including Season One's "The Worst Kind of Hunter" (directed by guest star Peter Weller) work that insistent reminder into the tone of the story, but most of them just play it for some easy chuckles. He's a good cop and Taylor is a nice fit for the character, but the show insists on trying to make him more than that, giving him a dark backstory that slowly unravels.
The supporting cast are a bit more interesting. Sackhoff is the show's MVP, lifting her equally simplistic character (spunky, savvy, young cop who talks frankly about things Longmire struggles with, and who has a dark past of her own) out of the doldrums through sheer charisma, or even sheer physicality, flashing wide eyes and a big grin that will inspire the viewer to do the same. Lou Diamond Phillips is a more fun kind of restrained as Longmire's oldest friend, Henry Standing Bear. Longmire (in one of those story devices that TV writers like because it's open-ended and can easily be weaved into episodes) arrested the police chief on the local Native American reservation (referred to simply as "the res") for embezzlement. The remaining res cops harbor a deep grudge against Longmire, and Henry often provides a way for Longmire to get in and out of the res to talk to people that can assist him with his cases. The character is silly, a kindly guy with a joke for everything, but Phillips' warmth really livens Henry up.
Each episode of "Longmire" is a "mystery-of-the week" kind of deal, while season or even series arcs play out in the background. It's an underwhelming structure because so many of the series' "dramatic" moments are there solely for the audience's benefit. As much as the writers try to make it part of his character, there's no reason that Longmire needs to launch into action on some of his hunches without explaining them, with Vic in tow asking what's going on, except that it's a cliche of television. The show has a very generic drumbeat score that picks up into high tempo when a character learns a dramatic secret right before a commercial break. In the pilot, Longmire comments that "in a small town, you get to know just about everybody," and Vic seems excited to be working on a homicide case, but then nearly every subsequent episode sees them investigating a murder with characters from out of town.
Stylistically, "Longmire" doesn't break much ground either. The action is all competent but not particularly thrilling, attempting to jazz up generic fight and shootout sequences with goofy comedy or tricks like shaky cam. The show's wildest-looking material comes in the form of flashback sequences and a heaping helping of Native American rituals, which I can only hope are being presented faithfully and in a non-condescending or corny way. Such criticisms probably sound harsher than they ought to, but "Longmire" is the kind of show where harmlessness is sort of a crime; it's A&E's homogenized, dad-friendly version of "Justified", offering the western theme and lawman flavor, just without much of the bite, wit, or invention. As a time-waster, it's fine, but is there any reason not to be more demanding?
Warner Archive brings "Longmire" to Blu-Ray in a six-disc set, presented in a thick Viva Elite Blu-Ray case (standard, not eco-LITE). The front cover image takes the two individual covers for the two seasons on DVD and mashes them into a study in contrasts: Longmire in close-up, with his eyes serving as the focal point against a black backdrop, and another of him standing on a darkened Wyoming plain, his eyes hidden from the camera. The artwork is specially printed for each copy and thus looks a little rougher, but as with all Warner Archive Blu-Ray editions, the discs themselves are standard, pressed affairs, with single-color disc labels that run one through six.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC, "Longmire" can look a little anemic on Blu-Ray. The show tends toward a less-than-vibrant mix of dark blues, grays, and browns, and the transfer seems a touch too bright, flattening the image. Detail is strong, but maybe not quite up to the razor-sharp standards of other modern television programming. It's not that the episodes don't look good, or even as good as they looked viewed in broadcast HD -- I'm sure this is a fine and faithful transfer. Personally, though, the show never quite offers much in the way of high-definition "pop" that I'd want out of the show if I were upgrading over the existing DVD sets. Newcomers will likely find more reason to go HD.
Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that has basically the same limitations as the picture. Although gunfights, car crashes, and other action-oriented sequences are frequent on the show, there isn't much theatrical flair to the mixes themselves, which lack the richness of bigger-budget TV being made these days. There is the expected level of depth and immersiveness to the sound as bullets whiz by and debris flies through the air, and the show's library of existing music and minimal score sounds nice enough, but there's never a moment where the sound design really surprised me or grabbed me. It's fine. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included, although I do note that they are in all-caps, more like a Netflix or closed captioning feed than standard disc-based subtitles.
The extras from the two DVD releases of "Longmire" are carried over here, which consist of three featurettes (18:55, 28:59, 30:00, all in HD) that take a peek behind the scenes of the show (audiences will be fascinated to see Taylor slip in and out of his native accent -- he hides his Australian very well). There is also the opportunity to watch two episodes, "Sound and Fury" and "Election Day", in an extended format.
"Longmire" is not a bad show, just a heavily formulaic one, both in terms of its own recurring beats, but also the beats of similar shows in the genre and just the TV format in general. I wouldn't hold it against someone if they enjoyed it, but as a critic, it's a hard show to recommend, rooted so firmly as it is in familiar pleasures rather than more unpredictable excitement. Those who do like the show will probably be reasonably satisfied with the program's Blu-Ray debut, which may be available only through Warner Archive, but includes the same supplements as the DVDs and looks and sounds as good as the show seems capable of. Personally, the show trends toward more of a rental, but I'll concede that the Blu-Ray itself is worthy enough of a recommendation, simply because it's aimed at those who are already fans.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.