James Michener’s wonderful novel, Centennial, is also a marvelous, and very long, mini-series about the development of a piece of land in Colorado from the glorious days when the land was honored by the Indian to modern day when poachers try to kill eagles. It’s a true commentary on the good and the bad of the white man’s arrival in what many would call the old west.
After devoting hours to the partnership and lives of trappers like Pasquinel and McKeag and then introducing us to new friends Hans Brumbaugh and Levi Zendt, part 6 takes us to Texas with The Longhorns. This is one of my favorite episodes. It’s pure cowboy and part of its success is due to the main guest star, Dennis Weaver.
Weaver is very talented and his character of R.J. Poteet is right up his alley. Poteet is hired by John Skimmerhorn (Cliff DeYoung), the son of the ruthless Frank Skimmerhorn, to bring cattle from Texas to Colorado. You could call this the impetus of the cattle trade in Colorado, so it’s quite important to the future story.
I love a good round up show, and that’s what we get here, one in which there are numerous rich, colorful characters who are also fanciful and fun.
Rafael Campos plays Nacho Gomez, the cook who doesn’t take any guff from Poteet or the cowboys; Scott Hylands gives life to a Southern cowboy with the heart of a giant, and Greg Mullavy guest stars as Mule Canby, a storyteller who can really spin a web of tales without batting an eye.
What stands out about The Longhorns is the speech that Poteet says to the young Jim Lloyd about the land. It’s prophetic in many ways, words that are dead serious, even solemn, and yet at the same time are hopeful. In one sense, it’s what Centennial is all about.
The Longhorns is almost a standalone show. While several of the characters show up and continue on, it’s like an away show. Still, it’s terrific.
From there, the mini-series moves on to The Shepherds, episode 6. It’s good, but honestly, I lose a little interest here, even though there is still some very good acting going on.
Maybe I lament the loss of the McKeag character too much. He was definitely my favorite in Centennial, or perhaps it’s more transitioning from old to modern.
A key part of this episode is the change from Zendt’s Farm, the place where Gregory Harrison’s Levi Zendt had opened a store with Richard Chamberlain’s Alexander McKeag, is now Centennial and it’s grown to the point that they have Brian Keith there in the role of Sheriff Dumire. We’ve come a long way from the trappers befriending the Indians.
With the arrival of cattle, Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton) has returned and he marries the English Charlotte Buckland (Lynn Redgrave). I think part of my problem here is that they are the elitist couple, and I don’t really like them. We also get sheep added to the range, courtesy of Messmore Garrett (Clint Ritchie). The main purpose of this story is to drive a wedge between the cowboys we grew to love in The Longhorns since some work for cattlemen Seccombe and others for Garrett.
With all the drama of The Shepherds, it was dull and I was ready for episode 7, The Storm. Still, it also wasn’t one that held me that much in the fold, either. Basically, the main thing that comes from this is the Levi Zendt.
Adrienne LaRussa guest starred as the ‘bad girl’ of Centennial, Clemma Zendt, the daughter of Levi and Lucinda. She is pretty selfish most of the time and actually has a hand in the death of her father. I’ve seen this type of character too much and maybe that’s why she didn’t go over with me. In a sense, Clemma is stereotyped.
About the most exciting thing from this seventh installment is a surprising twist to the story with the cattle drivers who brought the longhorns to Centennial. That was the only spark in this episode for me, though.
I wish the joy and ease of The Longhorns episode could have maintained itself, but this middle stretch of Centennial is good, but not as good as the first five installments. It doesn’t invoke the strong emotions of them. Still, there’s more story to be told.