I’d heard a lot about Lonesome Dove over the years. It was supposed to be one of the pinnacles of the mini-series format. And as such, it had been in my Netflix queue for quite some time, but I’d never gotten around to watching it. I’m very glad I did, even though I came really close to not even watching the second episode.
It’s a western, in case you didn’t realize that from the picture there. 🙂 Two ex-Texas Rangers decide to take a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. Drama ensues. I don’t think you need much more of a plot than that, really. Denisa and I just finished it over the weekend, and we both loved it. It’s a moving story, with great performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall, fascinating historical settings and conflicts, beautiful scenery–the whole package.
So why did I almost stop watching it?
The first episode is slow. Mega slow. I’d tuned in expecting gunfights and stampedes, and I got a lot of brooding and talking and character development. I don’t mind me some drama, but I wanted a western with a bit more oomph. Denisa was the one to persuade me to give it one more episode at least, and I’m really glad I did, because it took off wonderfully after that.
As I’ve thought about it, the reason it took off wonderfully is that first episode, strangely enough. They’d laid the groundwork for the characters so well, that by the time the action starts, you really care about those characters. You know them, warts and all. And so you’re invested in them. In a way, this reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other successful long running television series. The starts to some of these often aren’t that great. It takes them a while to really get going. But once you’re on for the ride, it’s fantastic.
In the end, character almost always trumps plot. Any good plot can be made even better with great characters. Even a bad plot can be saved somewhat by good characters. But bad characters can ruin a good plot. If you don’t like the people, why read or watch? I can’t help thinking that modern television could learn a thing or two from that first episode of Lonesome Dove. Take the time to establish characters. Well-rounded ones that we can like or hate or feel conflicted about. And then throw stuff at them. These days, with episodes available via Netflix or Hulu, I’ll wait to commit to a series until some other people have been my guinea pigs. Once I hear good things, I start tuning in. Yes, a series that puts characters first at the expense of plot might take a hit for the first while, but once the plot comes along and the characters are already in place, I think they’ll earn that audience back with dividends.
Just my two cents.
In any case: Lonesome Dove. 3.5 stars. Great stuff. Watch it.