Posted by: markfender | May 13, 2015

Justified

Apparently, it’s TV week.

justifiedJustified ended its six season run earlier this year and I just caught up. And it’s pretty good. Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, U.S. Marshal. He’s the hard-nosed cop archetype that you get a lot in fiction. Most of the time he’s a dick, several times he blatantly breaks the law to get his man, and his relationship with his boss and father are continually strained. As a Kentucky native, Givens is sent back to Kentucky in the pilot, where he has to deal with his family and the close-knit, insular nature of Harlan, Kentucky. Having lived in Kentucky (although the opposite side of the state from Harlan), I can attest that Timothy Olyphant’s accent is the most authentic on the show (you know, if you’re an accent purist).

A Kentucky-based cop show doesn’t sound all that interesting. At least, not interesting enough for me to watch it. However, it does have one thing going for it: Elmore Leonard. Personally, I don’t think Elmore Leonard gets the credit he deserves for his thoroughly American fiction. His crime fiction details the “real criminals” – the idiots, the schlubs, and the other types who have turned to crime because nothing else works for them. Basically, any news story out of Florida sounds like your typical Elmore Leonard criminal.

So, being based on an Elmore Leonard character, Raylan wins me over. But, he’s not the real reason to watch the show. The real reason is Boyd Crowder.

Boyd Crowder, played by Walter Goggins, was supposed to die in the pilot. But, he’s being played by Walter Goggins and so he’s escalated to a higher level already. With his “peculiar, long-winded way of speaking,” Goggins is mesmerizing. Sure, he’s using a few short verbal tricks, but they’re effective in conveying an articulate, criminal mastermind. Almost every scene with Boyd is worth watching. It’s a shame that the showrunners didn’t realize what they had on hand with Walter Goggins, because it takes a few seasons to really establish Boyd as the entertaining character he is. He started out as a neo-Nazi, advanced into preaching, and returned to coal mining. It’s only after all this that he makes himself into the “outlaw” of Harlan County through the final seasons.

The first season was one of the weakest. It dealt with cases of the week a little too often. Despite the storyline running through these initial episodes, this emphasis on individual stories hurt some of the initial premise. Raylan gets shipped to Kentucky because of his killing of a mob guy in Miami, but then proceeds to shoot a frightening number of people in Kentucky in the first season. Second season established the show as being particularly stellar, primarily because of Margo Martindale. As the kingpin of the Bennet family and the local marijuana trade, the story of her and her brood made the show a winning exploration of criminal families and particular “backwoods” attitudes. Season three fumbled a bit with an utterly weird main villain, but the show regained its traction with season 4 and the increased emphasis on Boyd as the local kingpin. Season 4 was particularly interesting because it was about the manhunt for a guy who’d been hiding out in Harlan for over twenty years, with numerous cover identities (Season 4 also ended with Raylan’s father’s death which was quite a relief. Not because I hated the character but because the actor could never seem to settle on one accent. I have no idea what part of the country he was supposed to be from). Season five brought in the extended Crowe clan from Florida, which would have been better if I could stand to listen to Michael Rappaport do an accent (I can barely stand to listen to Michael Rappaport use his native accent, let alone a redneck Florida one). Season Six was the crowning achievement, with Raylan and Boyd finally facing off. Season Six also ended with one of the most affecting scenes of terse, male friendship ever committed to celluloid, so it’s got that going for it (plus Sam Elliot as the evil Colorado weed farmer).

Justified isn’t the best thing on television. But it’s a pretty great picture of a particular part of the country that doesn’t get a lot of focus on television except as the butt of jokes. It’s got excellent characters and some (select) great acting. Plus, it’s Elmore Leonard. He was one of the greats. That alone makes it worth watching.

 

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