Rural crime is big business. At least it is on television, where shows like the late great Longmire and the fantastically successful Yellowstone rule the roost. See also: True Detective, Ozark, and Sons of Anarchy. A decade or so ago it was organized crime shows, and before that a host of political shows, but now the landscape of television seems to be dominated by murderous country bumpkins.
As Montanans, we have a unique perspective on these shows. For one thing, we can pick apart the geography of shows that take place in Montana. In Yellowstone, an establishing shot of downtown Bozeman will all of a sudden morph into some little Utah town.
The thing is, we can't judge a show based on catawampus geography. When I watch Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas I have no idea how accurately it portrays Brooklyn's streets (although I suspect it's pretty accurate), nor does it really change whether the film is good or not (and it's great).
Still, we Montanans can't help but notice when, for instance, the setting of ABC's new Montana-set procedural Big Sky is supposed to be Helena, but very clearly isn't. What about the Highway Patrol officer's costume? Montana Highway Patrol tweeted that they got it mostly right, with two small exceptions. What about the curiously lush foliage alongside the road - does it look a little more British Columbia than American Montana?
Having just watched the premiere, I can't say whether the show will be good or not based solely on inaccurate minutiae. And most shows take three or four episodes before they really hit their stride - just look at Yellowstone. At least for me, it didn't really get its hooks into me until halfway through the first season, and now the hooks are firmly lodged. So Big Sky probably deserves a few episodes.
The show has a simple setup. Cody Hoyt (Ryan Philippe) and Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) are private detectives in Helena, MT. Cody and his wife Jenny are on a break, while Cody and Cassie have begun a casual affair. Jenny finds out about their entanglement and soap opera ensues. Meanwhile, two teenage girls are on a road trip to Montana, where they end up running afoul of psychopathic truck driver and bona fide mama's boy Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty). He kidnaps them, along with a truckstop lounge lizard, and sticks them in the back of his semi-truck, ostensibly as part of a human trafficking scheme. Rounding out the cast are the always great John Carrol Lynch as a quirky Highway Patrolman and veteran character actress Valerie Mahaffey as the overbearing, hard-to-please mother of the psycho truck driver. Sound soap-operatic? Well, kind of, yeah.
I have heard, however, a number of people say that they don't appreciate the way Montana is portrayed, even in the premiere. And while I can understand that to a point, shows like Yellowstone and Big Sky are, explicitly, crime shows. As such, they must necessarily contain crime. If you want a wholesome view of Montana, I recommend you check out Backroads of Montana. That august PBS show, on for more than 20 years, has never once featured a violent kidnapping, a catfight in a cowboy bar, or featured a mama's boy serial killer.
Others I've spoken to have said "why would I watch a show about Montana when I live here?" Perhaps they have a point. But unless they are solving crimes in their everyday life, there might be something to say for a little escapism, especially in the year of our Lord 2020 AD. And distasteful though it may be to the very pious, some of us enjoy a good crime show. And, if you watch the premiere, you've got to admit the first episode of Big Sky does end with a very nice, unexpected plot twist.
If nothing else, picking apart the inaccuracies in these show's depiction of Montana is kind of entertaining in its own right, sort of like one of those "find three things wrong with this picture" puzzles.
At any rate, we'll watch a few more before we decide whether it's good or bad. Will it prove to be as addictive as Longmire or Yellowstone? I doubt it, but you never know.
In the meantime, did you watch it? What did you think?