- Season Two: A Look Ahead
- What Would Elmore Do?
- The Story of Justified
- Justified: Meet the Characters
- Shooting for Kentucky
- The Marshals
- “Long Hard Times to Come” Music Video
Why don’t crime shows feature more moonshine and pickup trucks?
Timothy Olyphant, Jacob Pitt, Walton Goggins, Nick Searcy, Natalie Zea, Joelle Carter, Erica Tazel
After shooting a man in front of a crowd of witnesses, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Olyphant) is reassigned to his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky. He tries to do his job, wait out his punishment, and avoid his, mostly criminally involved, old acquaintances and family. It doesn’t take long for that plan to go to shit, however. So instead he decides arresting and shooting them would be fun.
A lot of the talk around Justified is centered on writer Elmore Leonard. He created Raylan Givens in a story that serves as the basis for the pilot. But, Leonard is such a literary specific artist that any attempt to capture his style and just translate it to the screen is destined for failure. Justified won’t work if you’re looking for a weekly Elmore Leonard fix, but show creator Graham Yost has a style that mixes well into Leonard’s canvas and the show isn’t some TV bastard child of a great character. It clicks into gear from the start. Justified is a well built, well oiled machine. It’s more Yost than Leonard, with a little Yost trying to be Leonard sometimes, but that’s not a bad thing. If you’re not looking for it, you’re not going to notice that the characters are more sketches of Leonard’s usual fare than anything else, their vernacular is a little too witty and the constraints of television keep it moving just a little to briskly to really see the processes and minutia that Leonard’s prose is filled with. Justified is its own beast. The structure of the first season is a combination of some of the best aspects of modern crime television and literature. It juggles episodic stories and season long arcs, and it’s when the two seemingly diametric opposites get incestuous towards the end that Justified comes into it’s own. It’s a subtle meld and shows that Yost and his writers don’t think a 3,000 page show bible is substitute for a real sense of structure. Like it’s hero, Justified is a show that knows what it’s doing, does it confidently, and looks damn good doing it. That’s a terribly cheesy line, but holy fucking shit is it true.
That poor sucker is about to find out that cowboy boots always beat gun.
Timothy Olyphant is Raylan Givens, make no mistake. Olyphant can stand tall in some serious country fried shit kickers, and he can be the kind of federal asshole that makes everyone hate federal assholes. Givens is full of charm, but the subtle undercurrent of rage and violence is key. Olyphant knows how to show us just enough, just enough to feel his rage and building contempt. It’s easy to believe Givens doesn’t notice his condescending undertone with his coworkers, the key for Givens is a lack of self awareness. Self deception maybe, but this isn’t a character that is completely aware of why he acts the way he does. It’s such a subtle flaw that makes a character, it’s in the difference between reality and perception, and here it’s one of the driving forces of the show. Unlike pretty much any crime drama television show of it’s ilk, Justified functions on its characters flaws. Givens major flaws push the main arc forward and give them their cockeyed sudden turns. And most of his flaws are pretty much psychotic or cruel. When you dig deep into Givens, he’s not a pretty character. He’s a passive aggressive, or just plain aggressive, law man with daddy issues. Boiled down, if you met the guy in course of his job, you’d think he was a dick with a huge chip on his shoulder. And you’d probably think that smile on his face was a smug ‘fuck you’. You’d be right, but to the audience that’s fucking charisma in his smile. He’s got a badge and if you’re on the other side, you’re a bad dude. That’s not always though, and Justified loves playing it ambiguous. He’s a good guy, not a white hat. We like that. Antihero and all that jazz. It’s fun, it’s relatable. You know the spiel, I’m kind of dick sometimes, Givens is a kind of a dick, I feel like I like that guy now. Olyphant is charismatic and really goddamn likable, so it’s hard not to just go along for the ride even when his actions aren’t, pardon the obvious, completely justifiable.
The man who ate Louis C.K.
Givens is his job, but that’s not really the existential matter that Justified is concerned with. Givens isn’t defining himself with his work, he is pure old west law man. A man with his surroundings, a man fighting his environment, and of course throw in a dash of fatalism. I’d hesitate to outright call it a western, as much as it wears that genre on its sleave Justified is a southern crime drama; a modern southern crime drama, and the south has it’s own aesthetic, something with it’s own heavy existential weight and a whole shit load of messy bar fights. The show isn’t pointing some spyglass at Kentucky and telling us to laugh at the hicks though. The weight of the south; the perceptions the rest of the country hold, the sometimes embarrassing history, the economic fences, these are the things that Givens is surrounded with and it’s what informs Givens actions. A lot is made of his passive aggressive nature, and the show smartly shows us the deadly side of this right out of the gate. Scene one and the show has already shown us what the hero is capable of, and, more importantly, his complete disregard for the consequences. This gives the audience, and Olyphant, some breathing room. We get to see, feel really, where this rage and violence comes from. The external world, the crime ridden back roads and dingy bars, serves a direct link to Givens psyche. The past is something that doesn’t seem to fade away for Harlan County or Givens.
“Yeah, I get it. My character’s name was Dr. Dick Richard. I didn’t name the guy.”
The first ghost from the past to have a run in with Givens is Boyd Crowder, an old friend turned RPG totting Neo Nazi. Boyd is played by Walton Goggins and most people know Walon Goggins is fucking awesome. But, now we have Justified. Justified is undeniable proof of the awesomeness of Walton Goggins. Goggins isn’t just play his character from Predators with a bazooka though, Boyd takes an unexpected turn away from being a violent racist fuckpile after the pilot and quickly turns into a kind of mirror for Givens. Boyd’s motives and true nature are never clear, and Goggins juggles the ambiguity cleanly. At any moment Boyd could pull out a shotgun and clear the room or get on his knees and pray for the salvation of the wicked, and Goggins never tips his hand. He is the only actor that can actually take a scene from Olyphant. Boyd is a puzzle, and it’s hard to take your eyes off that. You want to find a clue, anything that can show us what his real face is. Goggins never resorts to chewing away the scenery, even with a lot of religious monologues to give. He is playing a character with showmanship without being showy. It’s easily the best performance of the season.
Justified’s casting may be it’s biggest strength and the rogues gallery is filled with great character actors. M.C. Gainey plays season villain, and Boyd’s father, Bo Crowder. You really couldn’t ask for a better hillbilly mafia boss, or a more threatening mustache. Gainey is a big, scary motherfucker, and he’s not playing Deliverance-lite. Bo is smart andcalculating, with a strong, violent presence. He’s not what most people would call a traditional good ol’ boy. Jere Burns and his creepy eyebrows are the scariest thing on the show, add in his shrill, ear punching voice, and you’ve got an enforcer that makes me never want to borrow money from anyone in the south. Ever. Outside of the black hats, the guest stars are just as spot on perfect too. Stephen Root’s gun toting, speedo wearing judge is a pleasure to watch. It’s Stephen Root, so that’s a given, but it’s a helluva character to give to someone with his comedic abilities. Root takes the keys and goes for a little joy ride, but it never distracts or feels out of place at all. Alan Ruck is one of those guys that just plays right on a TV screen, and as a mafia accountant turned pro bono dentist he’s in familiar territory on Justified. It’s a thankless performance, but the guy has his type down and there’s nothing wrong with that. Justified is a show that knows how to play to it’s strengths, and there isn’t a miscast role in the first season. And for Deadwood fans, you get W. Earl Brown, Peter Jason, Ray McKinnon, and Olyphant back on the same show. That’s probably as close as we’ll ever got to more Deadwood.
Nothing cures a hangover like shooting yourself in the arm and drinking a jar full of yak piss.
Instead of dangling a carrot in front of the audience, Justified takes the time to develop stories and characters. But, Justified isn’t The Wire, you can miss an episode and be right on track with hardly a hitch.The seasons arcs are never pushed aside, though. They develop organically, and it gives the show a slow burning tension. When things finally start to unravel toward the end of the season, Justified starts to really come into it’s own. The story creeps up and then explodes, and then it feels fully like the country noir it flirted with. The geography and time frame of the last few episodes are limited compared to the rest of the season, and the show just generally takes on a more literary feel. By the end it all feels earned, and best of all complete. The season had a story to tell. There were questions left, but a satisfying story was still told. It’s not a perfect first season (nix the title song, for gods sake), but it’s a confident, solid freshman effort. Strong, thematic dramas are commonplace on television these days, but they are rarely as fun to watch as Justified.
Video and audio are as good as SD gets. I was spoiled and saw season one in HD first, but unless I was really looking for it, I could hardly notice a difference. The extras start with a few EPK video features, all of which feature way more importance on Elmore Leonard than I think is a good idea for the show. The commentaries are decent and worthwhile if you can play them at 2x speed. Because honestly, who has the time to listen to commentaries anymore? Only four are included and one of them is too actor heavy for my tastes. They also included some syrup of ipecac, but it was mislabeled as a music video.