Television Reviews

Lonesome Dove: The Series – Not Enough of What Lonesome Dove Fans Are Looking For

This series, based on the characters in the original Lonesome Dove book and mini-series, tells the story of Newt Call as he’s looking back on his life through a book he’s written. The story picks up in the town of Curtis Wells where Newt (portrayed by Scott Bairstow) first meets Hannah (portrayed by Christianne Hirt). The two have a whirlwind courtship and are married. The series is mostly about their life together during what seems like the first year of their marriage.

Haven’t read the book or seen the mini-series? Well, you should. Besides that, though, you don’t have to if you are going to view this first season of the Lonesome Dove television series. Other than the name Newt Call, there’s not much else that draws on the rich history laid out prior to this point in time. For Newt, he doesn’t draw on a lot of his experiences, either. He talks a little about his father and about the cattle drive to Montana, but it’s not much. Near the end of the season, there is finally one episode involving Woodrow Call (portrayed by Lee Majors) and even that didn’t rely heavily on any of the earlier material to know what was going on.

The television series Lonesome Dove is a typical western series, and in a way that’s a shame. One of the things that was great about the book and the mini-series was that it showed the west as gritty, turbulent, violent, and dangerous rather than romanticizing it. Although the series does touch on that, it had more the feel of other frontier and western shows which have preceded it.

There are issues addressed in the series. The racism which pervaded society at the time is addressed head-on as a black woman traveling through town is denied water to wash up with and a room at an otherwise empty hotel. In the end, she purchases the hotel and ends up settling there, and the issue never seems to resurface. Other themes are explored as well, including the issue of guns and violence; of frontier justice, and the like. Lonesome Dove is not as sermonizing as Little House on the Prairie was in its depiction of frontier life, but overall its tone is much lighter and romantic than I found the mini-series and book to be.

The acting throughout the season is good. Scott Bairstow portrays Newt. Newt is finding his way in the world and Bairstow portrays him with the right mix of confidence and self-assuredness against his moments of uncertainty. He’s got ideas and ideals but isn’t sure exactly where they fit in his life. One of the best moments for him, I felt, was near the end of the season when he confronts a friend who he felt was spending too much time with his wife when Newt was thought dead. Through the season he grows from his arrival in town to trail boss to deputy.

One of the biggest problems I had was that I just couldn’t grow to like Hannah, Newt’s wife (portrayed by Christianne Hirt). I can’t say for sure if it was the actress or how the role was written. I found her to be arrogant, demanding, and pretentious. An example of this is in Traveller she and Newt invade a photographer’s space and totally disrupt her picture, yet it is Hannah who gets a superior attitude that the photographer was somehow doing something wrong and that she is deserving of an apology. There were moments like this where Hannah was so superior over everyone else and I just grew to not care for her by the second disc. This is a problem when the focus seemed to be on the relationship between her and Newt – I just couldn’t find myself rooting for them.

Eric McCormack in his pre-Will and Grace days really startled me. He portrays the former Colonel in the Confederate Army, Francis Mosby. He’s somewhat bitter and looking for power, money, and prestige. His soft spot is for Hannah, who greatly resembles his dead wife. Too bad this is really never built on. At the beginning of the season it was built up, then dropped again until near the end. McCormack does an excellent job in the role and is probably the high point of the series any time he is in front of the camera.

There were other points brought up and dropped as well, which kept disappointing me. I was waiting through the end of the season for certain payoffs which never happened. I think it was because in many ways the series couldn’t find its footing as to what it wanted to be.

It isn’t until the fifth disc, almost near the end of the season, that any characters from the novels or earlier series turn up. Here it is Newt’s father, Woodrow (as portrayed by Lee Majors). Majors does an excellent job in the role of the gruff man of few words. This episode was the highlight of the season and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about yet another actor in the role of Woodrow. I was very happy in the end.

Guest stars over the course of the season include Diahann Carroll, Dennis Weaver, Graham Greene, Judge Reinhold, Robert Culp, Billy Dee Williams, George Kennedy, Annette O’Toole, and the previously-mentioned Lee Majors. I really like the music which accompanied the opening and was present at times during the episodes. It had an old-time sound with violins serenading the narration or events.

It’s important to note that the series Lonesome Dove – The Outlaw Years is the sequel to this season. I didn’t realize that at first and wondered how they could leave off the end of the season the way they did with nothing coming after it.

The end of the season was somewhat disappointing but also left me curious. I think it also conflicted with some of what Newt narrated earlier in the series, but I wasn’t about to start watching the series again to check this out. It seems the producers wanted to take the show in a different direction and thought this was the best way to do it. I wonder if viewers at the time had some of the same complaints I did?

The series Lonesome Dove isn’t horrible, but it’s not something I have the need to town and watch over and over again. It seems like it was trying to build on that name and unfortunately dropped the ball and fell into the trap that many series do when they try to please everyone and end up not totally satisfying anyone. It tried to capture the young audience with the story of young love but left those who were fans of the mini-series and book less satisfied with a different take on western frontier life.

Disc One:

” O Western Wind
” Down Come Rain
” When Wilt Thou Blow
” Wild Horses

Disc Two:

” Judgement Day
” Duty Bound
” Long Shot
” Last Stand

Disc Three:

” Ballad of a Gunfighter
” Where the Heart Is
” Firebrand
” High Lonesome

Disc Four:

” Law and Order
” The Road Home
” Blood Money
” Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Disc Five:

” Traveller
” Rebellion
” The List
” Ties That bind
” Snowbound

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