Is 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves' Missing the Mark?

Is 'Lawmen: Bass Reeves' Missing the Mark?


In a world overflowing with captivating tales from history, one that has gained some well-deserved attention recently is the incredible journey of Bass Reeves. Born into slavery in Arkansas, Reeves was thrust into the tumultuous backdrop of the Civil War, where he found himself on the Confederate side, fighting a battle not of his choosing. It's a story of resilience, escape, and the pursuit of justice. But does the new Paramount+ miniseries, "Lawmen: Bass Reeves," do justice to this remarkable story?

With David Oyelowo taking on the role of Reeves, "Lawmen" endeavors to trace his entire career, from his reluctant days as a Confederate soldier to becoming one of the most feared lawmen in the Wild West. The show, part of Taylor Sheridan's television universe, brings the Old West back to life in classic style. But does it truly capture the essence of Bass Reeves' life and the challenges he faced as a Black U.S. Marshal?

While Reeves' story is nothing short of extraordinary, it's not the first time we've seen it on our screens. From HBO's "Watchmen" to episodes of "Timeless" and "Legends of Tomorrow," Reeves has made appearances in various TV shows in recent years. However, his story is so rich and dynamic that it deserves a more comprehensive scripted treatment. "Lawmen" takes on this task but doesn't quite hit the mark.

One of the standout features of "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" is its charismatic lead, David Oyelowo. He brings a vulnerability and appeal to the character that's hard to resist. But as you delve into the first few episodes of the series, you might find something amiss. The show appears to steer clear of reckoning with the racial aspects of Reeves' life that should be central to his story.

The initial episode begins with a powerful scene set during the Civil War, where Reeves is forced to fight for the Confederate army. It's a brutal moment that should set the stage for the racial struggles that follow. However, as the series unfolds, race seems to take a back seat. Sure, there are nods to his skin color and a few derogatory comments, but "Lawmen" doesn't delve into the challenges he faced as a Black man in a position of authority in the Wild West.

This begs the question: Is "Lawmen" shying away from the real issues that Bass Reeves grappled with? Reeves' choice to become a U.S. Marshal was groundbreaking, but the show doesn't explore the complexity of this decision. How did he feel about joining a profession that disproportionately targeted people like him? "Lawmen" doesn't seem interested in answering these questions, and it's a missed opportunity to add depth to the narrative.

The absence of racial tension in the show becomes particularly apparent when Reeves enters new towns. No one seems surprised by the tin star on his chest, and no one treats him any differently than they would a white Marshal. It's almost as if he's just another cop, and this simplification erases the unique challenges he likely faced.

Additionally, the series could have drawn parallels between Reeves' forced participation in the Confederate army and his later decision to become a lawman. Both involve him wielding authority in different contexts, but "Lawmen" doesn't explore this connection. Does Reeves ever reflect on the contrasts between these two chapters of his life? Does the weight of his past choices weigh on him? These are the questions that could have made the show more thought-provoking.

While the family subplots involving Reeves' wife, Jennie, and their daughter, Sally, are present, they feel underdeveloped. The frequent jumps in time between episodes make it challenging for these stories to make a lasting impact. A more cohesive and connected storytelling approach could have enhanced the emotional depth of the series.

Despite these shortcomings, "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" does have some moments of action and intrigue. Reeves' character shines when he uses his wits to outsmart outlaws. A particular gambit where he poses as a beggar to infiltrate an outlaw's home showcases his clever approach to law enforcement.

However, the series often settles for being a passable rendition of a classic Western, without delving into the complications that could elevate the narrative. It seems content with providing familiar material without exploring the potential complexities of Reeves' life.

In the end, "Lawmen: Bass Reeves" misses the opportunity to connect with what makes its title character so special. Bass Reeves' life was a tapestry of challenges, triumphs, and complex decisions. It's a story that deserves to be told with depth and nuance. While the show has its moments, it falls short of doing justice to the remarkable life of the first Black U.S. Marshal in the West.

As we delve into this historical narrative, we can't help but wonder: How can storytellers better capture the essence of historical figures like Bass Reeves? What are the challenges of adapting real-life stories to the screen, and how can they be overcome? "Lawmen" may not have all the answers, but it certainly leaves us with plenty to ponder.


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