One of the major travesties when it comes to television is just how many great shows seem to get canceled while “reality” TV and other unworthy shows continue to survive year after year. One such show was the HBO series Deadwood. Filled with fantastic writing, even better actors to deliver the lines and an original setting that made for fresh ideas couldn’t prevent the show’s cancellation after three seasons. Just to add salt to the wounds, it seems, no series finale ever came to be to give a sense of closure to the series. One good thing came out of all of this, though, is Timothy Olyphant.
One of Deadwood‘s main stars, Olyphant hit the ground running after the series ended. Landing staring roles in multiple high-profile movies, before finding a home back on the small screen on the hugely underrated FX series Damages (the series has since moved to DirecTV due to low ratings). Then, just like his Damages co-star Glenn Close turned a supporting role on the hit FX show The Shield into an offer to do her own FX show in Damages, Olyphant soon found himself as the title character in FX’s new hit show, Justified.
You know that feeling you get when you just know someone was destined to play a certain role, and the character just wouldn’t be the same if they hadn’t? That’s the case here, as it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve read any of the books by Elmore Leonard of which the show is based, Olyphant is U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens; furthermore, he’s one of the major reasons the show succeeds on all levels.
If there’s one thing a series needs in order to stand out, it’s a main character that draws in the audience. Givens is a real man’s man, and he’s just so naturally charismatic that you can’t help but love him. He’s a modern day cowboy, taking his job very seriously, but won’t think twice dishing out his own brand of justice if you force his hand (or he forces you to, in some cases). It’s this type of thinking that gets Givens in trouble in the pilot episode, as a deadly confrontation in a very public restaurant causes the Miami office to bring Raylan out of the spotlight, and send him somewhere a little less high-profile until things begin to calm down.
Erasing all the work Raylan has done to run away from his past, he’s immediately reassigned to the U.S. District back in his hometown in Harlan County, Kentucky. It isn’t long before familiar faces begin to emerge, and Raylan quickly finds himself mixed up in trouble not only with the locals, but also with a drug cartel from back in Miami that wants nothing more than to see Givens dead.
The cast of Justified is filled with hidden gems that really help fill the show with some incredibly deep, and interesting characters that you constantly just want to learn more about, and see more of on screen. Aside from Olyphant, I was pleasantly surprised to see the incredible Walton Goggins, who fans of The Shield will remember as Detective Shane Vendrell. Goggins plays the part of Boyd Crowder, who interestingly enough was supposed to die in the pilot. It wasn’t until after so much positive feedback was received about the character from both preview audiences and the crew itself that they decided to add an additional scene that shows him being taken to the hospital to live to fight another day. This is one of those moments where you wonder what they would have done had they killed him off in the pilot, as Boyd becomes one of the more interesting characters in the series, and the chemistry between Goggins and Olyphant is nothing short of mesmerizing when the two are on-screen together.
Also playing vital roles in season one are Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter, who play Raylan’s ex-wife Winona and Raylan’s current object of affection Ava Crowder, respectively. Even though Raylan and Winona have children in the books, she’s used sparsely and has no real impact on the stories, which the creators thought was a waste of a character that could be such a rich source of past information on Raylan that nobody else would know. With that, the kids no longer exist, and Winona, while not a major character, continues to grow throughout the season, adding gas to the already burning fire that is Raylan’s life.
There are many more interesting characters, such as Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), who plays Raylan’s boss when he’s transferred to Kentucky. While he’s more lenient when it comes to how Raylan dishes out justice, he also knows where to draw the line, even if Raylan tends to more or less ignore it even after he does. Then there’s Arlo Givens (played superbly by Raymond J. Barry), Raylan’s father, who has plenty of secrets himself, and is not only the main reason that Raylan went into the profession he did, but also why he left Kentucky in the first place. Finally, there’s Bo Crowder, the person who would be looked at as the main villain, and as the last name indicates, is the father of Boyd. Bo is played by the instantly recognizable M.C. Gainey, at least if you were a fan of Lost. Even if you didn’t, Gainey is a treat to behold on the screen, and a great addition to such a fantastic overall cast.
What’s a cast without great writing? Justified is filled with some fantastic individual stories throughout the 13 episode season, all while a much bigger story continues to grow over the course of them all. Each crime that must be looked into, each fugitive that must be tracked down, and basically every idea that comes into play once an episode starts is fresh, interesting, and funny. It’s not a comedic, slapstick funny, but a dry, quick wit that will have you laughing out loud quite often, especially with the great delivery by Olyphant, who has the pleasure of being involved in most of these moments.
It’s easy to tell that Justified is the type of show that will only get better with time, and that’s pretty amazing considering that they completely hit it out of the park in season one. The show is utterly addictive, with it being a rare moment that you won’t find yourself starting the next episode immediately after one finishes. When Jack Bauer left television last year, I wondered how anyone could possibly step into the shoes of a man who isn’t afraid to take the law into his own hands and live by his own rules in order to do what‘s right, all while doing all he can to protect those he holds dearest. Well, it didn’t take long, as Raylan Givens is all that wrapped in a 10-gallon cowboy hat, and a pair of cowboy boots that make you want to rethink how you dress when you head off to work.
The show looks absolutely fantastic, and is shown in 1080p high definition, in a 1.78:1 ratio. There’s not a better transfer of the show you could hope for, as the colours are vibrant, and the shades are dark, with perfect visibility where needed. The audio also sounds perfect, and comes in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. There’s no struggle to hear anything, and it all comes through on the levels required to not have you stumbling for the remote every time music kicks in, or a shoot-out starts up. The dialogue is clear, the music is great, and the sound effects are spot on.
What Would Elmore Do? - This featurette is just under 19 minutes in length and sees the crew talk a lot about Elmore Leonard’s books. The series was created after Elmore sent in a copy of his short story “Fire in the Hole,” which they ended up basing the pilot off of. Elmore himself does a lot of speaking in the feature as well, which is quite interesting, as some authors completely separate themselves from adaptations of their work, but he’s all for it, and who could blame him?
The Story of Justified – This is a quick five minute featurette where the cast and crew give their thoughts on the show. It’s fast and an easy watch, so you can’t really go wrong there.
Justified: Meet the Characters – This featurette is also roughly five minutes in length, and just shows the cast and crew once again talking. This time they’re giving their perspectives on the characters in the show. Another quick, fun watch.
Shooting in Kentucky – This is a 16 minute featurette that’s filled with some interesting information, as the crew talks about the sets, and how they shot the pilot in Pittsburgh, and other pieces of the series in L.A. We learn that the only sets that were built are the U.S. District office, as well as Raylan’s hotel room, and the porch. There’s also some interesting stuff here on the costume design, as well as the music used in the series. One thing I found to be relieving was that the creators of the show will be fixing the driving sequences in the coming season, as they caught flack for it in season one. That’s one thing that always bugged me, as it was so obvious the characters were driving in front of a green screen throughout all of season one that it could get distracting. There’s no reason why this slipped through in the end, but it’s great to hear they took notice, and will be fixing it in the future.
Meet the Marshals - This featurette is 13 minutes in length, and is a sit-down interview with former U.S. Marshal Charlie Almanza, who is on set to make sure everything on the show is accurate. He talks about what U.S. Marshals do, and how they differ from other branches of the law, as well as teaching the cast about using weapons, and so forth. An interesting watch, no doubt.
There’s also a two minute look ahead to season 2, a music video for theme song to Justified, “Long Hard Times”, as well as multiple cast and crew commentaries scattered throughout various episodes in the season.
Justified is another home-run for FX, and here’s hoping that it garners the same audiences as past hits that the network has brought to the spotlight, and doesn’t find itself walking into the sunset prematurely. If season one is any indication, it’s on the right track, and with season two premiering this month, there’s no better time to go pick up season one and catch yourself up on one of the best series currently around, and I assure you, you’ll be justified in doing so.
Sony Pictures presents Justified. Created by: Graham Yost. Based of the Characters Created by Elmore Leonard. Starring: Timothy Olyphant. Running time: 560 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 18, 2011.