3 out of 5
Produced by: Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle
covers season 1
After a string of horror / horror-adjacent flicks, including the moderately notorious Poughkeepsie Tapes – mainly due to its temporary lack of availability – I was surprised to see director John Erik Dowdle and co-writer and brother Drew Dowdle attached to down-home murder mystery scribe C.J. Box’s second recent TV adaptation, Joe Pickett. Box’s Big Sky, over on ABC, is one of the rare shows I’ve stopped after investing in several episodes, thanks to rather piddling writing, though that’s not a direct knock on the source material, which I haven’t read; but the low-stakes-adventure-with-a-twist format and rural setting seemed to carry over to Pickett, which, premiering on Paramount+ – home to Tyler Sheridan material which felt of a similar breed, only with more swearing – I wasn’t very hopeful, and the odd (supposed) mismatch of the Dowdles pairing just kinda gave me more doubt, that this would be Big Sky with some cinematic pedigree.
But in the Dowdle’s oeuvre, I was neglecting to consider Waco, which had proven some bonafides towards a more straight dramatic, episodic format; and rather proving that one idea can be interpreted quite differently, while Joe Pickett suffers from some TV subplotty backpedaling, it is immediately more interesting than Big Sky, and paints a much, much more interesting overall picture of characters and its setting. It paints itself in some folksy cliche and quirk – Michael Dorman plays Joe, the new game warden in Saddlestring, WY; David Alan Grier is there as his wiseage-slinging mentor; Patrick Gallagher as the local grump of a sheriff; and all the locals with strange animals and huntin’ habits Joe has to (sometimes quite literally) wrestle – but we dive right in past that in the first episode, showing off the show’s desire to make sure we’re able to see past these quirks, to some of the realities that fuel them. Which is enough to earn our interest (as is Dorman’s steady portrayal of his character), but then we get into the actual season-long arc, which is essentially a murder mystery, but one that successfully continues to extend its tendrils in fun, surprising ways throughout the 10-episode season, and always with logical justifications for why this game warden is still getting involved.
The Dowdles – through Erik’s direction on several episodes, and Drew’s co-writing – set a good, balanced tone for what proceeds, allowing for humor and room for character growth (Joe’s wife, MaryBeth, played by Julianna Guill, is particularly notable in this regard), while never straying too far from a palpable sense of danger – that Joe may lose his job; that his family is put in danger by this investigation – and while the show has its fair share of stereotypes (cougar mother-in-laws; greedy ranchers) it also uses Joe and MaryBeth to push against some tuff guy / demur wife assumptions, making it maybe not the most “challenging” show, but at least fairly balanced.
‘Balanced’ is probably the over-arching theme: the show isn’t rewriting procedurals, or detective series, but each episode does feel approached like it’s intended to be a full experience, and done so with some acceptance of the audience’s intelligence – we’re not glad-handed all of the information, and stuff that’s obvious to us is also obvious to the characters.
So Joe Pickett is solid. It’s an airport paperback, given the prestige of Paramount, and a mostly solid cast and very consistent, talented crew helping to further ground the material and give it life. I’m not really clear how Big Sky netted a second season, but just from a couple episodes in, I knew I’d be comfortable watching Pickett for episodes and seasons to come, so I’m glad it’s been able to secure it’s own second season as well.