Bill Wittliff, co-exec producer and, using Larry McMurtry’s novel as a basis, scripter of the commanding “Lonesome Dove” miniseries, now flies alone as writer-creator of a new mini, “Ned Blessing: The Story of My Life and Times.” McMurtry’s sadly missed.
Like a long trail unwinding, the Old West actioner delivers an amusingly faultless, handsome hero, Ned Blessing (Brad Johnson) and his Mexican sidekick Crecencio (Luis Avalos). They hit hostile Plum Creek, Texas, a one-horse town where Blessing’s dad, who’s disappeared, used to be the lawman.
In the first two hours, dauntless Ned, who can be smashed in the face with a pole and not show a trace, and Crecencio, a healer who reads the future in a gourd, face villain Verlon Borgers (Bill McKinney) and his three dissolute sons who’ve all taken over Plum Creek.
Also involved in the proceedings are a good-guy Indian, One Horse (Wes Studi); the burg’s shady lady, the Wren (Brenda Bakke); and Big Emma (Rusty Schwimmer), who runs the saloon. Sticks Packwood (Tim Scott) is a scared citizen with backbone, and Donzaleigh Abernathy and Julius Tennon play farmers.
After introducing the characters, the first episode focuses on setting up the Borgers as good Ned’s enemies when he rides to the rescue.
Westerns were bushwhacked by hackneyed characters and cliche situations, and “Ned Blessing” seems to be along for the ride. After the two-hour preem, program returns for an hour on four succeeding Wednesdays. Either it’s a salute to or sendup of the Western tradition; if audiences are seeking the “Gunsmoke” quality CBS once proffered, they won’t find it in Plum Creek.
Matinee idol Johnson hasn’t the strength to wrestle his way out of Ned’s humorless invulnerability. Crecencio’s a retread, and the Wren character, though prettily played by Bakke, is shopworn. McKinney makes a mean Verlon Borgers, while Gregory Scott Cummins makes something substantial out of Verlon’s worried son Leola.
The period piece looks good thanks to Cary White’s design. Neil Roach’s lensing is on target, and Terry Blythe’s editing’s pro. David Bell has created an accommodating, sympathetic score.
Program is bookended by a white-haired Ned sitting in the pokey near the gallows writing “The Story of My Life and Times,” from which he narrates the story. About the only Western cliche he hasn’t jotted down is, “They went thataway!,” which viewers will probably do.