Justified is an interesting show. It’s messy, sometimes comes off a little slight, and doesn’t have enough ‘big’ moments to have the audience salivating for the next episode or talking about it at the water cooler but it still works in its own charming little way. It works really well, actually. Part of that is due to the fun and unique cast and part of that is the Elmore Leonard source material, but in many of the same ways that The Sons of Anarchy works, so does this. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and enjoys dabbling in the gray areas so much it’s hard not to fall in line.
It’s working, because Justified has been renewed for a second season.
Season one ends tonight and because the FX Network is so on top of their game and not afraid to put their good work into the hands of gentlemen, I’ve had the chance to see the season in full and can tell you that though flawed, this is a series that is a testament to both the terrific work Timothy Olyphant has been doing for years and creators (Graham Yost & Gary Lennon included) who know how to sit back and keep things light.
Here’s what I love most about television: It’s organic. You watch the pilot episode of a show and you see tons of things that don’t work, and if you revisit them at the end of a series it’s amazing how much stuff had to be honed to pull it off. So many great shows start off wobbly and then develop into the best the medium has to offer. Most other places, you get one crack and that’s it. I have a feeling this show is really going to find itself next season, as there’s already been some growing pains that have been worked out. The biggest being the fact that Walton Goggins has become a primary factor in the show. In the first episode he’s the “big bad” and he is electric, as anyone who’s seen The Shield can attest. It was assumed that he was there to sort of hand the torch in a way, but it’s evident almost immediately that Justified works best when there’s a foil for Tim Olyphant that can hold his own. As a result, though the show is always entertaining, it doesn’t really click until midway when not only is Goggins back in the mix, but also the really terrific tandem of Raymond Barry, M.C. Gainey, and Rick Gomez rounding things out. With the group in place that it has (and Nick Searcy, Jacob Pitts, and the superhot Natalie Zea have grown on me), Justified is a contender.
As proven on Deadwood, Tim Olyphant’s strength is that he’s charismatic as hell and believable as a man of action, but there’s only so many backwoods adversaries he can best before it becomes tiresome. The Elmore Leonard source allows for some originality but mostly it just adds cachet and cool. The stuff still has to click and the concept of a lawman who’s quick to shoot (the title, among other things refers to the high rate of justified kills Olyphant’s Raylan Givens has under his belt and the catalyst for his banishment to rural Kentucky) could wear thin.
The first season has mostly comprised of Raylan moving back and opening up old wounds with the local crime syndicate led by Goggins’ Boyd Crowder, old relationships with his ex-wife (Natalie Zea, yummy and married to Fright Night’s William Ragsdale on the show), his criminal father (Raymond Barry, one of the great character actors), and beginning to form some new wounds with the likes of Crowder’s dead brother’s fiery widow (Joelle Carter) and a shady sheriff (Brent Sexton, who is also very good on the show).
When it works it really works; a great episode about a standoff in the Marshall’s station (with fabulous guest work by W. Earl Brown), a nice supporting turn by Alan Ruck in an episode about a man on the run from the people he embezzled from, and one where Jere Brown is on fire as the nutty criminal Winn Duffy. There’s a character who needs to return.
When it doesn’t, it tries to build up the mythology of the region and the Crowder family’s reign. Or when it focuses on the religious awakening of Boyd too much. Goggins sells it real well but it is only partially effective. Or, maybe it is effective but it’s not very engaging. Another subplot that doesn’t hold much water is the relationship between Raylan and his father and as big a fan of Raymond Barry as I am, this is some of his weakest work.
Luckily, the show resolves itself well, pulling out after thirteen episodes as a very solid little addition to the landscape. Definitely worth a watch, especially if you like me are a big fan of Mr. Timothy Olyphant.
# 9 Hatless, #8 Blowback, #4 Long in the Tooth, #13 Bulletville.
Olyphant. Walton Goggins. Rick Gomez. Brent Sexton.
When Raylan and Boyd share the screen. The last quarter of the season’s effective and believable rapport between Raylan and the rest of the U.S. Marshalls. The climactic shootout. Seeing the lead character prove how much of a hardass he is in nearly every episode.
Effectiveness of the Finale:
Pretty effective. Not too many major losses, which keeps threads open for the second season but enough for some closure. I was hoping for a few folks to be dispatched that weren’t, but there’s some very interesting possibilities coming up, that’s for sure.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey