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Why you should watch 'Longmire,' a love letter to Luddites with a cowboy twist

Commentary: Now that Netflix has renewed "Longmire," CNET's Bonnie Burton tells you why you'll want to start binge-watching a crime drama about a sheriff who refuses to get a cell phone.

Sheriff Longmire's most high-tech tool is his trusty truck, and that doesn't even have GPS.

When you're addicted to watching crime procedurals like I am, there's a distinct chance you might end up suffering from pseudo-science fatigue. It gets tiresome rolling your eyes whenever a lab tech promises to get DNA results in mere minutes or a detective gazes at a grid of lasers to determine bullet trajectory.

But even you if can't get enough of the techno-music science lab montages of "NCIS" or "Bones," or maybe just the endless dialog saturated with forensic jargon from sexy medical examiners on "Castle" or "iZombie," sometimes you need a break.

May I suggest watching the Luddite-loving Western crime TV series "Longmire," which just got renewed for another season on Netflix? There are no fast-paced techie scenes on this show. No labs full of expensive gadgets. No police precincts full of twentysomething hotties ready to chase down sexy suspects in the latest sports cars.

In "Longmire," all we get is Walt Longmire, an old-school sheriff in a tiny fictional Wyoming town who refuses to get a cell phone and can't even be bothered to use an old fax machine.

In each episode of the show, which is based on the "Walt Longmire Mysteries" book series by Craig Johnson, we see Sheriff Longmire, played by Robert Taylor, solve a crime, usually murder. Helping him are his deputies Katee Sackhoff as Vic Moretti, Adam Bartley as Ferg and Bailey Chase as Branch Connally, who was recently replaced with actor Barry Sloane as the character Zach Heflin.

It's refreshing to see that a small-town police force with a limited budget and no gadgets can succeed in cracking crime after crime. Even when you know an updated computer system or even a smartphone would make Longmire's life easier, you root for him even more when he stubbornly refuses to use modern-day conveniences.

Still, without the usual high-tech gimmicks, "Longmire" originally had a hard time finding an audience among males ages 18 to 35, the demographic TV shows aim to attract. Heck, I only discovered this show because my dad -- a cowboy himself -- suggested I watch it.

Just imagine how hard it was for "Longmire" to attract advertisers that supported a cop drama that harkened back to Matt Dillion and Doc Holiday. Only so many truck commercials can keep a show afloat. It's not like Stetson cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans have TV commercials.

"We sell the shows to advertisers based on the demographics of 18-49 and 25-54, and the audience just wasn't there," A&E SVP Dan Silberman told the Wall Street Journal in 2014.

If Sheriff Longmire needs to make a quick call, he just borrows Vic Moretti's (Katee Sackhoff) cell phone.


And so "Longmire" only ran for three seasons on A&E before being cancelled and then saved by Netflix, which aired season four this September. Luckily, Netflix announced last week that it renewed the series again for a fifth season. Ironically, the network that saved "Longmire" is widely watched by tech-savvy young folks, while A&E skews toward an older crowd that might relate more to Longmire's stubborn anti-tech ways.

Which makes me wonder if audiences are growing numb toward the standard fast-paced, high-tech crime shows. When detectives rely more on fictional hologram technology, the latest phone apps, hacker interns, the Deep Web and intricate computer databases to do all the dirty work, then the detectives themselves seem rather obsolete.

What makes Sheriff Longmire so much fun to watch is that he uses his book smarts and cowboy training instead of the latest tech to help him solve crimes. He can track a fugitive in the woods based on broken tree branches and footprints in the snow. He can tell if a body has been moved based on an "unkindness of ravens" (that's what you call a flock of ravens, for you city folk).

The show's Absaroka County is smack dab next to a Native American reservation. Murder takes place on both sides of the border, making Longmire's job more than difficult in places he has no jurisdiction. Luckily, his best friend, Lou Diamond Phillips as Cheyenne Indian Henry Standing Bear, helps him find justice both inside and outside the reservation.

Longmire lives in a cabin, carries an antique rifle, reads hardcover books, wears a dusty old cowboy hat, drives a beat-up truck and stays cool using a vintage Westinghouse metal fan. As a San Francisco city dweller surrounded by gadgets, I like to take a mental tech break by watching him. I can't wait to see what the good sheriff does next season on Netflix, and I hope he never gets a cell phone.