ONE advantage of the extended lockdown is it gave us time to watch all the good TV series we’ve heard about before but never really got the time to watch. One of them is “Justified” on FX Network, based on a story written by Elmore Leonard, a novelist who specializes on crime thrillers. Many of his works have been made into films, like “Get Shorty”, “Mr. Majestyk”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “Jackie Brown”, “Out of Sight” (that gave George Clooney movie stardom), “Hombre”, among others.
“Justified” stars one of his most memorable characters, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, who first appeared in the novel “Pronto” (filmed on TV with James LeGros as Raylan), followed by “Riding the Rap” and the story “Fire in the Hole” on which “Justified” is based. Raylan is now played by Timothy Olyphant, who was launched to movie stardom in “Hitman” but it didn’t click with audiences. He’s now perfect as Raylan, like he was born to play the role. No wonder the series was a hit and had a total of five seasons.
In the very first scene of the very first episode of “Justified”, Raylan guns down a killer sitting across him on a table in a plush Miami hotel. He warns his victim to just leave town, but he won’t and instead tries to outdraw Raylan, who proves to be the faster draw. Right there and then, you know this is a neo-western with the hero an expert marksman always wearing a cowboy hat like those you’ve seen in cowboy movies before.
The rest of the show attempts to prove that all the killings Raylan does in almost all the 13-episode series is “Justified”. But his act didn’t sit well with his bosses and he is reassigned to his hometown, Harlan County, Kentucky, where he has left behind some lasting issues with the towns folk, including his own negligent dad, Arlo (Raymond Barry) and his ex-wife, Winona (Nathalie Zea).
The show’s setting is a laidback backwoods place that is definitely a world apart from bustling cities like Miami or New York or Los Angeles. It’s peopled by Southern hicks who speak with a drawl and an accent, all a throwback to the Old West ala-”High Noon”.
The first season focuses on Raylan’s conflict with the Crowder clan of criminals. He’s assigned to protect Ava (Joelle Carter) from the Crowder family after she shoots to death her husband, Bowman Crowder, who has battered her for years and years.
The first threat is from Bowman’s brother, Boyd (Walton Goggins), a drug lord who is pretending to be a white supremacist boss and who used to be Raylan’s close friend in their younger days. He inevitably has a shootout with Raylan right in Ava’s own home, but he survives the bullet on his chest and later becomes a born again Christian who claims that God made him change his ways.
Another threat comes from the Crowder family patriarch, Bo (MC Gainey), who is released from prison and wants to revive his hold on the drug trade in Harlan and settle a score with Raylan’s own wayward dad. Eventually, there’s a big conflict with Bo and his reformed son Boyd who wants to keep Harlan free from drugs.
In the first season, Raylan gets to deal with other criminals and also with the boss of a big Miami crime syndicate who wants to take revenge on him for killing Tommy at the start of the show. All these characters meet up in a big exciting action-packed finale where Raylan and Boyd get to join forces versus Bo and the syndicate.
The series works mainly because of Olyphant’s finely tuned portrayal of Raylan. He has great screen presence and has a naughty bedroom leer that makes him look like he’s flirting all the time. What’s nice is that he doesn’t just use his gun in every instance. There are several episodes showing him resorting to other more peaceful or resourceful means, like some fried chicken, to settle a standoff. He’s well supported by Goggins as Boyd, an unpredictable character whose religious conversion may or may not be real. Joelle Carter also does well as Ava, the young widow who doesn’t hide her feelings for Raylan from the get go. You’d really believe she’s from Kentucky and her heartbreak when she sees Raylan still sleeping with his ex-wife is really moving. All in all, Season One is a great watch and we’re now off watching Season Two.