Taylor Sheridan ‘Lawmen’ Series Is Criminally Bad – IndieWire – Armessa Movie News

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In the last two years, Paramount+ has released 13 drama series, six of which have stemmed from “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan. Some are directly tied to the hit cable (and now broadcast) series, like the timestamped prequels “1883” and “1923,” while others merely bear the prolific writer and producer’s name (“Mayor of Kingstown,” “Tulsa King,” and “Special Ops: Lioness”). All have been considered successful by the nascent streamer (if less so by the culture at large), and thus the Taylor Sheridan Television Universe continues expanding.

Its latest, “Lawmen: Bass Reeves,” is actually built from both sides of the Dutton family’s ever-expanding fence — or it was, at least. While always about the first Black U.S. Marshall west of the Mississippi River, the seasonal anthology series was originally tied to “1883” before redevelopments set its story apart and Sheridan, who was once attached to direct, ended up solely an executive producer. Through four of the 10 episodes, I can’t say it really matters if “Bass Reeves” was directly linked to Kevin Costner’s TV family or not. Perhaps waiting around for a Tim McGraw cameo would make a difference for “Yellowstone” completists, but “Bass Reeves” is far too formulaic, too rushed, and too incurious to be propped up MCU-style by cameos.

Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe in 'The White Lotus'

Determined viewers do face a slight dilemma: You could skip the hourlong premiere episode and read the “early career” section of Reeves’ Wikipedia page, or you could slog through the uninspired, point-by-point recitation and be rewarded with Shea Whigham quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson on the battlefield. As a compromise, may I suggest checking out the first five minutes and skipping the remaining 52 — you’ll hear Whigham’s paraphrased poetry reading, yet won’t have to endure the increasingly predictable events that follow. Created by Chad Feehan (“Ray Donovan”) with a pilot directed by “Yellowstone” veteran Chistina Alexandra Voros, “Bass Reeves” picks up mid-combat, after Reeves (Oyelowo) has been dragged into the Civil War — and forced to fight for the Confederacy — by Colonel George R. Reeves (Whigham). Bass is not a soldier; he’s enslaved and acting at the behest of the Colonel, though you’d be hard-pressed to explain the difference once his skills with a rifle prove instrumental to both men surviving an ambush or two.

Despite the historical lack of clarity over how Bass secures his freedom, “Lawmen” sticks to the internet’s summation of events, providing even less context or motivating factors than any thoughtful reader could speculate on their own. Bass’ internal drive, his motivations, are kept as broad as possible. He leaves because he’s fed up and fears for his safety. He goes where he feels safe and he’s needed (a rural farm in Indigenous territory). He adapts quickly, as the series jumps ahead months (and sometimes years) after each commercial break. (“Commercial break?” you may ask. “Isn’t this a streaming series?” Yes, it is! But streaming has ads now, and “Bass Reeves” could follow in “Yellowstone’s” footsteps and end up airing on CBS, should the powers that be want to continue their synergistic release strategies.)

Bass Reeves TV show Lauren E. Banks as Jennie Reeves and Demi Singleton as Sally Reeves in Lawmen: Bass Reeves streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+
Lauren E. Banks and Demi Singleton in “Lawmen: Bass Reeves”Courtesy of Emerson Miller / Paramount+

It takes two full hours for “Bass Reeves” to reach what should’ve been its starting point: when Bass is sworn in as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. By then, knowing there are only 10 total episodes to this tale, it’s too late. “Bass Reeves” trots through a couple of perfunctory investigations, collaring a couple of criminals, and surviving a few dust-ups. Along the way, he picks up random partners (including Garrett Hedlund, who I can only assume is playing the great, great grandfather of his “Tulsa King” character), but the only parts that stick are thematic (and even those aren’t as striking as Oyelowo, always a committed, immersed performer).

Built as a revisionist western (that still savors its shootouts), “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” sees its titular star dwelling on what it means to be both a lawman and a Christian. Most of his difficulties center on how his duties conflict with his pacifism, as he has no taste for killing, though Bass also notices ways the supposedly impartial law partially tips the scales of justice. A Black man who steals out of necessity is given the same sentence as white cowboys who act out of greed. A doctor trying to decide which wounded patient to prioritize asks Bass, “Who got plucked? Law or outlaw?” “They both die about the same,” Bass replies. When an atheist cowboy (Dennis Quaid, who chews nearly as much tobacco as scenery) mocks Bass for believing in a God that allows men to suffer in slavery, Bass merely says that his faith “gave me the hope to believe” he could someday be free. Later, he swears to enact God’s will through the justice system, claiming, “Until God say [sic] otherwise, I’m the only law they [sic] is.”

Donald Sutherland plays Judge Isaac Parker, who Wiki informs me will come to see Bass as a “valued deputy.” The seeds of their relationship are planted in Episode 3, but “Lawmen” doesn’t take the time to engage in any debate between an old school adjudicator and a newly hired officer. It just bookends the hour with an unremarked upon disagreement, trusting the audience to take away whatever they want. “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” isn’t interested in the nuanced internal conflicts that must have roiled inside a former slave who chose to protect and serve slave owners, a Black man forced to fight for the Confederate army, or even a pacifist who picked up a gun every single day — at least, it’s not interested enough, soon enough. It solemnly nods at such issues as they walk by, but it does not stop to engage with them.

Instead, it tells yet another tale of a farmer who’s sworn off killing, yet kills again anyway; a husband who loves his wife (Lauren E. Banks) more than anything, yet risks losing her whenever the cowboys come callin’; a father who’s proud of his kids (his eldest is played by Demi Singleton), but who’s rarely around to see them do much of anything. Toss in a few shameless deaths to motivate Bass, and you’ll soon feel like you’ve seen this dark and dour story before. That may be the point. Given how quickly the Sheridan-verse is expanding, it needs easy stories, and fast. But Bass Reeves, no matter who he really was, deserves a more inquisitive case study than this.

Grade: C-

“Lawmen: Bass Reeves” premieres Sunday, November 5 on Paramount+ with two episodes. New episodes will be released weekly.

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‘Lawmen Bass Reeves’ Review – David Oyelowo Commands Western Series – Armessa Movie News

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The Big Picture

  • David Oyelowo delivers a phenomenal performance in Lawmen: Bass Reeves, capturing the character’s range of emotions and vulnerability.
  • The show boasts a talented cast of A-listers, including Dennis Quaid and Donald Sutherland, but some characters are only briefly showcased.
  • The episodic structure of the series sometimes reduces the focus on important relationships, like Bass’s commitment to his wife Jennie.


There are some roles that seem inextricable from the actors who have played them — as if, once that person has stepped into the shoes of that particular character, it would be difficult to picture anyone else achieving the same impact. That sentiment is the best way of capturing the feeling of watching Paramount+’s Lawmen: Bass Reeves, which hails from creator Chad Feehan. While other big names have brought the legendary figure to life in both film and television alike, likely none have been given the space to dig into the titular character the way that David Oyelowo is — and the result is a performance that proves impossible to look away from.

The series’ narrative follows Reeves at several pivotal moments in his life, from his punishing beginnings in slavery all the way to the occupation that turned him into an icon, serving as the first Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. In the midst of wrangling some of the most dangerous fugitives of the age — according to historical records, Reeves had a well-known reputation for being both an expert marksman and a shrewd investigator — he also seeks to provide for his family, with his loyal wife Jennie (Lauren E. Banks) holding things down on the homestead while Bass is off on assignment.

While Lawmen: Bass Reeves was initially billed as an anthology — and nothing within the first five episodes provided for review would indicate otherwise — the knowledge that our time with this series is somewhat limited is a sobering one. In fact, the biggest drawback surrounding a show like this one is that it would be beneficial to spend even more time with the characters and within the story. Instead, there are moments when it feels as though the series has only just settled into the overarching plot and allowed us to become more invested before the narrative jumps ahead, propelling both its lead and the audience into new, less certain circumstances.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves

Release Date
November 5, 2023

Cast
David Oyelowo, Dennis Quaid, Joaquina Kalukango, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley

Main Genre
Western

Genres
Drama, Western, Biography

Seasons
1

Creator
Chad Feehan

David Oyelowo Is Phenomenal in ‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’

lawmen-bass-reeves-episode-2-david-oyelowo
Image via Paramount+

Ultimately, a show that bears a single character’s name is going to come with certain expectations — but for Oyelowo, who has tackled more than one role rooted in history before and received well-deserved accolades as a result, Bass Reeves feels like a unique opportunity. The series begins with Bass still indebted as a slave to Colonel George Reeves (Shea Whigham), with the character positioned as someone who won’t fully realize his own potential until he breaks free of his circumstances. Oyelowo’s performance in the show’s initial hour is self-effacing, compliant, and when offered the chance to be set free from his existence as an enslaved man, hopefully vulnerable. The range of emotions that filter across his face in a pivotal moment early in the series captures this to heartwrenching effect, which is soon followed by dismay when Bass realizes that he’s been tricked, that the cards have quite literally been stacked against him.

Fast-forward to years later, Bass is attempting to make a modest living for himself and his family through farming, and opportunity actually comes knocking in a way that could benefit their future. Deputy U.S. Marshal Sherrill Lynn (Dennis Quaid) has a job offer for Bass which proves too good to turn down, even though the commitments of the occupation are going to keep him largely on the road and away from his family. There’s also the reality that apprehending criminals — history puts Reeves’ record at somewhere around 3,000 individuals — is a dangerous business, and one that often invites some less-than-honorable means of securing an arrest. Yet Bass attempts to maintain a piece of his morals, even if his professional partners aren’t as concerned with upholding the law from a fully just standpoint, and these clashes of conscience prove to be some of the series’ most compelling moments.

‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ Boasts a Cast of Big Names, But Only to a Point

lawmen-bass-reeves-david-oyelowo-dennis-quaid
Image via Paramount+

Given Lawmen: Bass Reeves‘ aforementioned anthology format and the episode count — thankfully, bumped up to eight from the initially confirmed six — there’s only so much time we’re given with some of the most impressive members of the cast. Oyelowo himself is a strong anchor for the series, and Bass Reeves wouldn’t work half as well as it does without his presence over everything else. That said, some characters effectively make their mark even though they may only just be passing through in terms of the overall season. Quaid’s Marshal Sherrill Lynn briefly turns the tenor of the show into more of a buddy-cop Western when the plot revolves more around both his recruitment of Bass and the reluctant partnership that results. In fact, it’s easy to see how several more episodes could have been made out of their dynamic without the story weakening. But since this is Bass’s journey first and foremost, Lynn is only afforded a brief tenure in the spotlight before shuffling off-stage.

Donald Sutherland serves a similar position in the overall narrative of Bass Reeves, but perhaps it comes as no surprise that the illustrious actor knows how to make the absolute most out of a limited amount of screen time. His performance as Judge Isaac Parker, the man responsible for swearing Bass in to become an official U.S. Marshal, both affords the moment the gravitas it deserves and seems implemented to give Bass some forced perspective about what his new role entails — as well as the fact that, in many cases, the law can be a particularly harsh mistress indeed.

‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ Isn’t Always Served by Its Pacing

Ultimately, the place where Lawmen: Bass Reeves is a little let down is through its smaller episodic structure. Eight episodes might seem like a generous order in the age of streaming television, but given all the hallmarks of Bass’s life that the series has to tackle, some elements feel like they could be given even more time to play out. The relationship that should be afforded the most weight and significance, Bass’s steadfast commitment to his wife Jennie, often suffers the most when the series is forced to split them up for plot-demanded reasons. Understandably, the job of a lawman is a grueling one as depicted in this series’ time period, but given that Oyelowo and Banks each make up one-half of this abiding romance, their intermittent scenes both underserve the characters’ relationship and the actors’ natural chemistry.

Instead, Banks is given more acting opportunities opposite oldest Reeves daughter Sally, played by Demi Singleton (King Richard), and when the two characters often wonder out loud about Bass’s safety and fate, it almost feels like the show is unintentionally reminding us of the strong family unit scenes we’re missing out on with Oyelowo so often split up from the rest of these particular cast members. With the peril and sleepless nights that so often surround Reeves’ law enforcement pursuits, the inclusion of more scenes that emphasize his safe berth at home would have benefited the series — and humanized this legendary figure beyond what we’ve already seen in previous portrayals on-screen.

When it was officially confirmed that Lawmen: Bass Reeves would not be considered a part of Taylor Sheridan‘s Yellowstone universe, it was unclear whether that would be a boon or a disadvantage. In hindsight, letting Lawmen: Bass Reeves be its own story was the best decision that could have been made. Not only does the series benefit from existing in isolation, without the prospect of its characters being drawn into Dutton family drama, but its leading man is afforded the freedom to offer a complex, evolving performance that adds even more dimension to one of America’s most legendary figures. If only we were given even more time to watch him do it.

Rating: B+

Lawmen: Bass Reeves premieres with its first two episodes November 5 on Paramount+ in the U.S.

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Lawmen: Bass Reeves – Trailer – David Oyelowo – The untold story of the most legendary lawman in the Old West. The journey of Reeves and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as the first Black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, arresting over 3,000 outlaws during the course of his career- Playlists

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Lawmen: Bass Reeves – Trailer – David Oyelowo – The untold story of the most legendary lawman in the Old West. The journey of Reeves and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as the first Black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, arresting over 3,000 outlaws during the course of his career

Lawmen: Bass Reeves | Official Trailer | Paramount+

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Paramount+ Releases Trailer For ‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’- Armessa Music News

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What happens when you give a former a slave a badge and a gun and tell him he’s the law in a town where the Ku Klux Klan run rampant and Black people are still viewed as less than by their white counterparts? You get history.

Paramount+ released their first trailer for their upcoming series Lawmen: Bass Reeves, which is based on the story of the titular character who was appointed to become the first Black U.S. Marshall in Mississippi in the late 1800’s. Starring David Oyelowo as Reeves, the trailer showcases all the racism and hardships you’d expect to see Black people experience in that time period. Heck, the KKK didn’t even have the fancy pointed hoodies yet and were still out there harassing and threatening Black people with farming equipment and torches.

According to Deadline, the series is the first of what could be many which will explore the stories of many lawmen and outlaws who’ve been lost to the pages of history.

Deadline reports:

“Growing up in Texas, I heard a lot of stories about Bass Reeves. They were always akin to a dime novel hero with incredibly fanciful flourishes of a gunslinging lawman pursuing the most-hardened outlaws in the Wild West,” said Chad Feehan, who created Bass Reeves and also serves as showrunner/EP. “Somewhere in my childhood that myth of Bass took firm root in my consciousness and never left. Then one day, not too long ago, David Oyelowo invited me to dinner. Over the course of our meal, he explained his seven-year journey to tell Bass’s story, where the myth of the man both converged with and separated from reality, and why Bass’s life was more relevant than ever.”

“I immediately went home and scoured the internet, read books and listened to podcasts,” Feehan continued. “I became obsessed with what I didn’t know, with all of the nooks and crannies of Bass’ remarkable life that aren’t regularly shared, as well as with revisiting the often-told tales through a now-adult lens. That spark of obsession morphed into a raging Fire of determination, fueled by my desire to play a role, no matter how big or small, and assist David in honoring the legacy of Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves.”

Should be interesting.

Check out the trailer for Lawmen: Bass Reeves below and let us know if you’ll be checking for this when it hits Paremount+ come November 5th.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves | Official Trailer | Paramount+

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Lawmen: Bass Reeves – Teaser – David Oyelowo – The untold story of the most legendary lawman in the Old West. The journey of Reeves and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as the first Black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, arresting over 3,000 outlaws during the course of his career- Playlists

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Lawmen: Bass Reeves – Teaser – David Oyelowo – The untold story of the most legendary lawman in the Old West. The journey of Reeves and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as the first Black U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, arresting over 3,000 outlaws during the course of his career

Lawmen: Bass Reeves | Teaser Trailer | Paramount+

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