Comanche Moon, author Larry McMurtry's prequel to Lonesome Dove, is a bustling tale of the 1858–65 wars between the Comanches and the Texans, with bumpy pit stops along the way for bedroom shenanigans and booze. As a younger version of Gus McCrae (the role carved out by Robert Duvall in 1989's Dove miniseries), Steve Zahn is playful but ornery as a Texas Ranger saddled up alongside sullen pardner Woodrow F. Call (The Lord of the Rings' Karl Urban). It's gutsy to take on roles made famous by Duvall and, in Urban's case, Tommy Lee Jones, but the actors have the good fortune of working from a character-rich script by McMurtry and Diana Ossana (who won Oscars for their Brokeback Mountain screenplay).
The chronicle starts with McCrae and Call joining famed Capt. Inish Scull (Val Kilmer) in his crusade against the Comanche and their chief, Buffalo Hump (Streets of Laredo's Wes Studi). Scull ends up in the hands of Ahumado (The Astronaut Farmer's Sal Lopez), a vicious Mexican outlaw, and Kilmer is such a grand hambone he makes slowly going mad in a pit fascinating. Lighter moments of romance and horseplay are woven into CBS' six-hour miniseries, but they too often feel farcical blame the muddy, mean humor of Deadwood. These false notes, however, are eased by simple, stirring scenes, like when McCrae and Call first come across Lonesome Dove, and find the ''town'' circa 1858 has only one (essential) structure: an open-air saloon, heartily hospitable despite its lack of roof or walls. B+