Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood) is unceremoniously banished back to his native Kentucky after his most recent assignment in Miami goes sideways. Let’s just say that Raylan’s quick-draw tendencies probably are a better fit for the 19th century than they are the 21st century. They also say you can’t go home again, but after his dysfunctional, hardscrabble childhood in rural Harlan County, Raylan really doesn’t want to be in Kentucky. Nonetheless, his new boss (Nick Searcy) thinks Raylan may be useful in the task force investigating his one-time coal mining coworker Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and quite frankly, no other Marshal office wants Raylan. Complications ensue. . . .
I’ve had Justified recommended to me by many people over the years (including my dad), and I only now got around to watching it. As is usually the case when I procrastinate on pop culture, I’m not sure why I waited so long. I really enjoyed this show. In fact, I think it may have supplanted every other show on my favorite show list. Thanks for the great recommendation, Dad (and everyone else who told me I’d like it)!
The show, which is based on Elmore Leonard’s crime fiction and has been described as a modern Western–though I consider it an Eastern, due to its Kentucky setting 🙂 –reminds me of a grittier, slightly edgier, modern version of The Rockford Files. It’s got the same great blend of action, humor, drama, and suspense, with a likable and competent but fallible protagonist surrounded by a vivid, eccentric cast of supporting characters having offbeat adventures.
The characters really are the best thing about Justified. The show rotates between Raylan’s work and personal life at the Marshal office in Lexington and what is going down in his native Harlan, which usually involves an assortment of family, friends, foes, and acquaintances.
I’m not usually impressed with Hollywood depictions of rural redneck characters because they so often feel tired and stereotypical, but many of the characters in the show reminded me so much of people I know. There’s just something weirdly likable and believable about them, even if many of them are objectively awful people. And I appreciated the fact that the show doesn’t try to soften their edges and that it also allowed them to change and grow, though not always in a positive way.
The show is both episodic and serialized in its narrative, and I thought the writers did a great job of balancing the best of both types of stories. I tended to find Raylan’s work life and whatever criminal insanity is currently brewing in Harlan more interesting than his love life, but the show manages to balance multiple story lines in a compelling way across multiple seasons and is remarkably consistent. I also appreciated the fact that, unlike many other shows that conveniently drop story lines, the characters face real consequences for their actions, even if it takes seasons for the narrative consequences to unfold.
Though the show has one of the best pilot episodes I’ve ever watched, there is some early installment weirdness with the first season as it finds its feet and some folks did find the fifth season not quite as good as what follows, but even the weaker material is better than most TV. And the show closes its run in its sixth season with some of its strongest material and one of the most satisfying series finales I’ve ever watched.
And at its heart, it’s just a relentlessly entertaining show. It’s very quotable, never takes itself too seriously, and is consistently funnier than most sitcoms I’ve watched.
I think that is also why, as good as Justified is, it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of other acclaimed shows that aired at the same time. It’s got excellent writing and acting and can be as emotionally devastating and moving as shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men at their best, but I think Justified’s overall lighter and more flippant tone made it seem at odds with what people associate with prestige TV.
Still, guest stars Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies did win richly deserved Emmys for their performances as crafty, folksy, matronly, and utterly ruthless crime family matriarch Mags Bennett and her pathetic, vicious, conniving, and gloriously deranged son Dickie, respectively, and the episodes focused on their dysfunctional family dynamic and criminal misadventures remain some of my favorites.
If you’re looking for a fun, engaging show to watch (or revisit) as summer winds down, Justified is the perfect choice!
What are you watching this summer? Are you a fan of Justified? What’s your favorite Elmore Leonard adaptation? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on any of these items or to place them on hold.