When learning about slavery in the United States and the Civil War, there are a few figures that tend to stand out. Names like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Tubman are often discussed as abolitionists and, in Tubman's case, helping slaves make their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad. While these individuals and their extreme acts of bravery are well known, there are others who have led extraordinary lives, coming from slavery to freedom.
One such individual was Bass Reeves. Named after his grandfather, Bass Washington, and taking his master's last name, Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas but eventually became the first U.S. Deputy Marshall in the Indian Territory. Holding the job for 32 years, he arrested thousands of felons, while never seriously being injured. Paramount+ limited series, Lawmen: Bass Reeves stars David Oyelowo (Selma) and chronicles Reeves' life from his escape from slavery to his success as a Deputy Marshall.
Throughout the eight-episode series, Oyelowo portrays the sharp shooting detective as a man with high moral standards and a profound sense of law and order despite coming from a world that continually sees people of color as property rather than human beings. Oyelowo shows us how Reeves, after bravely fighting for the South in the Civil War, ran away after beating his cruel owner. Finding himself in Indian Territory, Reeves learned various languages including Choctaw and after a bit of time would assist law enforcement as a translator. Eventually, he became a lawman and lived by a certain code of ethics which helped him to be successful for three decades.
Oyelowo, after having championed the idea of this project for almost ten years, not only stars as Reeves but also executive produces the show. As such, he invested a lot of himself into Lawmen: Bass Reeves and the result is a quality product throughout, from the acting to the writing and every aspect of the production value. Costumes and set designs are very well done and Oyelowo has been nominated for Critics Choice, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his portrayal of the lead character.
Joining him are cast members Lauren E. Banks (City on a Hill), Demi Singleton (King Richard), Barry Pepper (Crawl), Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant), Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow), and Donald Sutherland (Fallen). While the latter two veteran actors have smaller roles in the show, their scenes are no less impactful. Both Banks and Singleton have a strong onscreen presence and hold their own while Goodluck manages to blend well and isn't over-intrusive at any point.
As previously mentioned, the production value is, for the most part, excellent. The costumes are very well done and saddles, wagons, and weapons add to the overall essence of the show. My only complaint is that in one scene where Reeves returns to the plantation looking for his wife, he sees the empty bed where she slept and as he puts his hand on the mattress, the material is obviously too new and clean.
Lawmen: Bass Reeves is a Western, drama in every way so if you love the genre this show is right up your alley. It also doesn't hurt that Oyelowo is exceptional as the lead and surrounds himself with a cast and crew made up of excellent professionals. One would also be remiss if the musical score, especially the opening title song, wasn't included in the praise.
Overall, one could state the, mostly true, entertaining western is a home run for Paramount+, and since the show's title says LawMEN, it is feasible that this could become an additional limited series highlighting other, extraordinary individuals during this tumultuous time in American History.