Justified: Season 1
Television networks have the habit of trying to blend popular genres that typically exhibit uneven results. The reason for so many failures is simply; insufficient consideration of the essence that defines the component genres and how best to juxtapose them in such a fashion as to compliment and reinforce each other. If this is done correctly the results can be awesome, verging on establishing a new type of program. While historically this is exceedingly rare it does happen and fortunately there is an example currently being broadcast; ‘Justified’. The producers’ set out to create a mélange of two of the most venerable, enduring and popular types of television series in history, the western and the procedural crime drama. It might seem to be a natural fit but the lamentable fact is the majority of attempts have regrettably missed the mark. Fortunately this is not the case with the series under review here. ‘Justified’ is the rare show that combines genres synergistically; forming something that has the comfort of familiarity with excitement of something unique. Through tight direction, formidable writing and excellent casting this series takes all the elements of the traditionally 19th century old west lawman plucking him up only to transporting him into the modern world. This migration of setting is tricky but in this specific instance was handled with unprecedented expertise. The series was greatly aided by the network hosting it, ‘F/X’. This basic cable network enjoys greater latitude from the FCC permitting the exploration of more adult themes presented in a gritty manner. This goes beyond the obvious use of mature language to the implementation of explicit subject matter. The ‘F/X’ network also has a proven track record with cutting edge alternative crime dramas evident by such successful shows as ‘The Shield’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’. While their programs demonstrate greater restraint than possible on the premium networks their shows tend towards a degree of intensity not permissible on the traditional broadcast channels. This translates to a series that is definitely not a modernization of a family friendly western crime series like ‘Gunsmoke’. Admittedly I missed this series during its initial broadcast but thanks to Amazon Video on Demand I was able to catch up and become an instant fan.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) works for the Miami office of the Marshall Service. That is until he shoots a man dead while sitting with him in a crowded restaurant. It seemed fair, at lease to Raylan since the man was a felon and he did give him 24 hours to leave town. The internal investigation declared the shooting ‘Justified’ but Raylan’s superiors cannot afford to let him remain in Miami. The only choice given to him is to return to his home town in Kentucky, something Raylan is not ecstatic about but it does let him keep his badge. The necessary exposition is doled out slowly but with exceptional care. Raylan has history with many denizens of the area especially Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) who had a crush on him since she was twelve and hid friend from when he worked digging coal, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Neither one turned out particularly well. Ava shot and killed her abusive husband and Boyd is a white supremacist with a perchance for gunplay and explosions. In the pilot episode Raylan shoots him in the chest but Boyd survives to be a recurring frienmy. There seems to be a catch phrase that quickly manifested in the show; the perpetrator challenges Raylan’s speed and accuracy with his sidearm asking ‘do you think you can pull before I blow you head off?’ The reply is unspoken but aptly demonstrated as the lawman draws with blinding speed. He manifests a simple, old west philosophy concerning the use of his weapon. If he pulls his gun out of its holster he aims to kill what he is shooting at. This has a pronounced effect on his adversaries but is ill received by the bosses.
This attitude towards the use of deadly force is only the tip of his personality. Raylan is anachronistic, a man displaced in time. Not only are his attitudes concerning shooting better suited for an old West Marshal his code of personal conduct and moral compass is more at home in Tombstone than Lexington, Kentucky. He is a man of his word. If he says he will shoot you on sight after twenty four hours believe it and get out of town fast. This steadfast conviction to his word and upholding the spirit of the law defines him. For those familiar with Olyphant’s last series, ‘Deadwood’, imagine Seth Bullock teleported to our time. To Raylan his job is devoid of shades of grays, he brings bad guys in dead or alive. In most cases the survival of the criminal is entirely optional. This unshakable code of honor is what appeals most to the audience. In a world where the law is seen as corrupt or at lease self serving a man like Raylan is comforting. He means what he says and his word is an unbreakable contract. Whatever Raylan promises you can be certain he will deliver; the genius of the series is in how it avoids descending into a one note premise with the crook of the week. Every episode builds on its predecessors weaving a study story that rapidly pulls you in.
The series is tightly written with every scene a piece integral to the way the story of largest scope unfolds. ‘F/X’ has some of the best writers, directors and actors available and it shows in the quality of shows like this. This is something that deserves your attention and a long run on the network. Few series areas compelling as this one with accuracy that shines brilliantly in an otherwise dismal landscape. Goggins and Olyphant are at the top of their game brining a rare intensity to bear here.
"Long Hard Times To Come" Music Video