This review was updated on August 13, 2003.
In a TV landscape parched for Western fare, USA’s “Peacemakers” provides a unique look at the work of a Colorado federal marshal in the 1880s, when the techniques of forensic investigation first moseyed into town. While oater hits all the right Wild West notes, TV audiences sated by a steady diet of “CSI” glitz may find the provincial crime-solving techniques tiresome after the initial novelty has worn off. How often can that newfangled fingerprint technology be mentioned with a sense of wonder? Five times in the pilot alone.
Tom Berenger plays U.S. Marshal Jared Stone in Silver City, a mining community that gets the good, the bad and the ugly influence from the outside world thanks to the railroad that runs through town. When town founder Art Wannamaker (Andy Maton) is found murdered, Stone heads out to the local saloons and brothels to start wrasslin’ some suspects.
The crime also attracts Larimer Finch (Peter O’Meara), a worldly detective from the Pinkerton Agency in Chicago. He carries with him tools and techniques that Stone has never seen before: the ability to reproduce and enlarge photographs and a firm belief in the benefits of autopsy.
Employing their individual investigation styles, Stone and Finch discover that Wannamaker was a lot more complicated than the stereotypical patrician gentleman. The backstory of day-to-day life in Silver City is cleverly revealed via Wannamaker’s transgressions, including a shady land deal with the local miners and a mistress who provides relief from his Grade A shrew of a wife (Fay Masterson).
A murder involving the sizable Chinese community on the outskirts of town leads Stone and Finch to join forces, the inevitable pairing of brains and brawn. The thesps have fun with their oater stereotypes, with Berenger nimbly switching from mild-mannered law officer to gunslinger and O’Meara over-enunciating every word to emphasize his supercilious snottiness.
Beyond these embellishments, however, both characters are written as one-note. Berenger’s dopey technophobe who jumps when the phone rings and O’Meara sniffing haughtily at all the dirty cowboys everywhere sets up their personalities, but doesn’t carry them very far. If either of these characters were to develop beyond their prejudices, there wouldn’t be much of a plot.
Also given short shrift in the pilot is the character of Katie Owen (Amy Carlson), the town mortician with an interest in Finch’s big-city technologies. Potentially intriguing role as an independent non-prostitute female on the frontier is used as little more than a convenient science nerd sidekick.
Although producers have eschewed the “CSI” comparison during interviews, use of the quick-cut close-up shot on important materials during investigation scenes is practically an homage to the slick forensics show. With its gory glam, “CSI” can get away with this kind of editing trick, but in the purposefully simple “Peacemakers,” it seems abrupt and out-of-place.
Overall production is great to look at, with snowy Vancouver shots giving the close-enough-to-the-Rocky Mountains feel a nice touch of starkness befitting the hardscrabble life of Silver City residents.
Series will normally air Wednesdays at 10 p.m.