On Screen: “Lawmen: Bass Reeves”

Lawmen: Bass Reeves

After the resounding success of “Yellowstone” and its two prequels (“1883,” “1923”), Taylor Sheridan produced another Western series: “Lawmen: Bass Reeves.”

Interweaving fact with fiction, its eight episodes follow the first Black deputy U.S. Marshal who served west of the Mississippi River. Currently vying for Emmy consideration as a limited anthology series, its compelling lead actor is versatile David Oyelowo (“Selma”).

In 1862 during the Civil War, enslaved Bass Reeves (Oyelowo) was forced to fight alongside his owner, George Reeves (Shea Whigham). While serving in the Confederate Army, Bass acquired a reputation as a remarkable marksman.

Escaping enslavement, Reeves then lived among various Native tribes where he learned to speak their Cherokee, Creek and Seminole languages.

After working as a paid gunslinger for the U.S. government, empathetic Judge Isaac C. Parker (Donald Sutherland) awarded him his coveted badge in 1875.

Settling as an earnest frontiersman-homesteader, he and his pragmatic wife Jennie (Lauren E. Banks) — along with their 10 children — faced continual racism and oppression during this post-Reconstruction era.

Yet Reeves (1838-1910) — with his Native American companion Billy Crow — was subsequently credited for arresting 3,000 wanted outlaws and felons during his three-decade career, patrolling Arkansas, Texas and the Oklahoma Territory.

One of the more daring segments pits sturdy Reeves against an evil ex-Confederate Texas Ranger (Barry Pepper) who used Black prisoners as slave labor.

Credit Sheridan and showrunner-writer Chad Feehan (“Ray Donovan”) for exposing and debunking many clichés of the classic, over-sentimentalized Western genre — although folklore still credits heroic Reeves for inspiring the legend of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

“I really hope people reframe their knowledge of history and accept the fact that Black people were so instrumental in building this country,” Oyelowo told Entertainment Weekly. “This man was empowered, using it for the good of his community and his country.”

No one yet knows if there will be a second season for this intriguing series. If there is, it will undoubtedly pivot around other previously ignored American History trailblazers.

Meanwhile on the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” rustles up an action-packed 8, streaming on Paramount+.


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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