Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Elkhorn: The Greenhorn, on INSP

Before he could be a Rough Rider, he had to be a greenhorn. Teddy Roosevelt led such a storied life, his years as a cattleman in the Dakota Territory are often overlooked, but it was still a significant period for him. TR’s later service as New York City’s police chief made him an intriguing supporting character in The Alienist, but Roosevelt the rancher is the central protagonist of creator Craig Miller’s Elkhorn, which premieres Thursday on INSP.

The future president is not quite the garrulous “Bully! Bully!” Rough Rider yet. As the titular “Greenhorn” of the pilot episode, he has toughened himself up, but he still looks like a Northeastern intellectual, which he also was. Roosevelt’s fame as a wealthy progressive reformer proceeds him to the Dakota Territory, but many of the locals assume he will be easy to push around. However, they quickly learn he is made of stern stuff and has wisely chosen his associates.

Roosevelt partnered up with his former hunting guide, William Merrifield, who knows the terrain better than anyone. For his chief lieutenants, TR imported his friend, Bill Sewall, a brawny lumberjack from Maine and his nephew Wilmot Dow. They will form the nucleus of the Elkhorn ranch, protecting the herd from the Marquis de Mores, an unscrupulous French cattle baron.

At least that last part seems like a fair assumption from what we see in the pilot episode. So far, the Marquis is ostensibly polite, but he clearly rubs TR the wrong way. At this early stage, TR is more bedeviled by his own demons, including his grief over the death of his wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and guilt from essentially abandoning their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt.

Frankly, it feels like a Western built around TR has been long overdue. He is sufficiently larger-than-life and notoriously action-oriented. Mason Beal bears a respectable resemblance to Roosevelt (pre-barrel chest) and he portrays TR’s inner turmoil and anxiety with sensitivity and conviction. However, as Sewall, Elijah Mahar has the best traditional Western genre scene in the pilot, facing down the unwelcome wagon, with trusty axe in-hand.

The premise of
Elkhorn, that of a somewhat more bookish and reformist version of John Chisum, is greatly appealing and the execution is off to a promising start. In the future, any historical liberties taken for the sake of a shootout should be duly forgiven. Based on the pilot, fans of Westerns and admirers of TR should enjoy the frontier Americana of Elkhorn when it premieres Thursday (4/11) on INSP.