[03/16/10 - 12:25 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Justified" (FX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "In Justified, which debuts in March, Timothy Olyphant plays the lead role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Givens is a modern-day 19th century-style lawman, enforcing his brand of justice in a way that puts a target on his back with criminals and places him at odds with his bosses in the Marshal service. Justified was developed by Graham Yost (Boomtown, Speed) and is based on the popular character featured in several books and short stories by famed novelist Elmore Leonard. Yost wrote the pilot and will serve as Executive Producer/Showrunner of the series. Leonard is Executive Producer, along with Sarah Timberman (Kidnapped), Carl Beverly (Kidnapped) and Michael Dinner (Karen Sisco), who directed the pilot episode. Produced by Sony Pictures Television and FX Productions. FX has ordered 13 episodes of the series, which is shot in Los Angeles."

What did they leave out? If you're longing for the return of "Deadwood," this show might actually fill the void.

The plot in a nutshell: In a scene that could very well take place in a different century, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, complete with cowboy hat) visits a lowlife (Peter Greene) in Miami for the second time. The first he told him he had 24 hours to leave the city or he'd kill him. Now he's back to make good on his promise. The aftermath of said meeting - let's just say the Marshal service isn't fond of Old West tactics - sees Raylan transferred back to the one place he never wanted to return: Harlan, Kentucky, his hometown. There he's given the lay of the land by his new boss/old mentor, Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), who sees the usefulness of Raylan's style. Their first task is not surprisingly, a ghost from Raylan's past: Boyd Crowder ("The Shield's" Walton Goggins), an old buddy whom he used to work with in the coal mines before he took off to join the Marshals. In that time, Boyd has embraced the white power movement, which ultimately provides an outlet for what he likes to do most - shoot people and blow things up.

Boyd's latest transgression, taking an RPG to a local African-American church, has put him on the Marshals' radar. Raylan's investigation turns over more than a few rocks from his past - from being reunited with his court reporter ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), who can see right through his facade; to crossing paths with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), his old high school crush who, after years of abuse, has just killed her abusive husband, Boyd's brother; to, in upcoming episodes, reconnect with his criminal father Arlo (Raymond Berry). The Ava situation fortunately gives Raylan the means to draw Boyd out into the open where he, not Raylan, gives the same warning the man in Miami got - leave in 24 hours or he'll kill him. Future episodes see Raylan and his fellow Marshals - former Army sniper Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) and ambitious career woman Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) - take on Kentucky's fugitives from justice, whether it be an old con who inexplicably flees with three months left on his sentence; or a reformed drug lord's accountant (the always-great-to-see Alan Ruck) who's set up shop as a dentist to the underprivileged.

What works: Olyphant is in top form here, as he manages the sell the more wonky aspects of the show. The idea that Olyphant walks around in a Stetson hat and pulls his service firearm like it's high noon in 1881 is borderline ridiculous, a fact that the show actually uses to its advantage quite deftly - whether it be the various thugs who are freaked out by his intensity, the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me attitude of his fellow Marshalls or the idea that "U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens" is basically a character that Raylan Givens constructed as a reaction to his childhood. As Boyd so aptly points out to him - does he picture his father's face when he pulls the trigger on the criminals he kills? The idea that Boyd and Raylan are two sides of the same coin is a compelling theme as Raylan's just as guilty as Boyd in terms of finding something to - apologies for the obvious here - justify his anger at the world.

Not surprisingly, when you wrap the above in an Elmore Leonard pulp novel, it becomes all the more enjoyable: from simple moments like having an act break consist of Raylan - locked in the back room of a convenience store, his trusty sidearm (and hat, the bastard!) taken - sighing, "Well... shit"; to clever asides about Raylan's violent predilections ("If you was in the first grade and you bit somebody every week," Art notes about Raylan's latest shooting. "They'd start to think of you as a biter."); to soul crushing statements like Winona's to Raylan in the closing moments of the pilot (which I won't spoil here). And because this is a Leonard project, the bad guys are given as much personality as the heroes, whether it be an aspiring thief (Johnny Sneed) who wants to use his score to open a sex toy shop or a out-of-town hitman (Brian Goodman) who gets angry at himself for getting shot. All in all, it's a fun package, one with the promise of both dramatic and comedic moments at every turn.

What doesn't: The two post-pilot episodes provided for review (two and four) definitely lack the snap of the premiere, mostly because the bad-guys-of-the-week are pretty generic. The show tries to up the stakes by making sure Raylan has a connection to both men - episode two's fugitive knew of Raylan's dad in prison, episode four's drug-lord-accountant-turned-dentist had previously escaped Raylan's custody - facts which actually work to its disadvantage as going three-for-three in knowing the perps is a hard sell in a show that already is a hard sell. To its credit, the show uses its down time to further explore Raylan's relationships with Boyd, Ava and Winona. There isn't necessarily a continuing story from week to week, but there's a sense that we're slowly breaking through Raylan's veneer so we can see what makes him tick

The bottom line: Just an all-around entertaining show, although I can see why some people won't like it.

  [march 2010]  


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