Justified was last year’s finest example of guilty pleasure television. The FX drama follows in the footsteps of predecessors The Shield and 24, featuring a protagonist who Breaks the Rules but Gets Results, a phrase that might actually be trademarked by the cable network. Thankfully, it returns tomorrow for a second season.
Justified follows US Marshal Raylan Givens as he reluctantly returns home to eastern Kentucky, Stetson and fastest-gun-alive in tow. Givens is an Old West sheriff born in the wrong century, so it’s fitting that he’s played by Timothy Olyphant, whose last major TV role was as Deadwood’s Sheriff Seth Bullock. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the show has the author’s sharp-tongued wit and well-drawn characters. Apart from the dialogue, the show benefits from a premise that is both episodic and serial. Week to week, Givens fulfils his duties as a marshal: hunting for fugitives, protecting judges, and negotiating with hostage takers, among other things. He also is the featured player in a love triangle that includes his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) and Ava (Joelle Carter), the woman he loves and the woman who loves him, respectively.
More intriguing is the overarching plot line that pits Givens against Boyd Crowder (The Shield’s Walton Coggins, aka Shane Vendrell aka Cletus Van Damme), a white separatist / cult leader / explosives-wielding criminal. Childhood friends on opposite sides of the law, Givens takes Crowder out of commission in the pilot; the bullet doesn’t kill him, but Crowder (allegedly) changes his ways, finds Jesus, and moves to a commune in the woods. Crowder is more svengali than supremacist, and Coggins gives the role more nuance than he did with his character on The Shield. The question of Crowder’s true intentions is all shades of gray and makes for an intriguing plot line.
Over the first season, the show highlighted the episodic content over the serialized, but finished strong. The romantic subplot is a bit predictable, but it integrates with the other stories organically enough. Overall, the performances, dialogue and unique setting make this show one to watch.
Watch Justified on FX, at 10pm on Wednesdays.