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Monday, May 23, 2011

Justified: Season One

To give you an idea just how awesome the first season of the FX drama Justified is, let me tell you that I am incredibly upset that the second season, already aired, won’t be on DVD for many months. I am going to have to find some way to see it, because I am hooked on this show.

Justified is based on a character created by crime writer Elmore Leonard. Even if you haven’t read any of his stuff, I’m guessing you’re at least somewhat familiar with the man through previous movie and TV adaptations, from Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Karen Sisco. Leonard’s stories tend to feature complex characters with clear motivations. He has a way of making all of his characters witty in a way appropriate to their relative intelligence and social standing. Unlike some other writers, he is just as humorous when writing for rednecks as he is for the upper classes, without sounding any false notes in either direction.

Justified tells the story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), transferred to his home state of Kentucky as punishment for his quick-to-shoot style of law enforcement. It’s an extremely unwelcome assignment for Raylan, who has reasons to leave the past behind, including an remarried ex-wife, Winona (Natalie Zea), and a mischievous father with a lengthy criminal past. The first case Raylan is assigned involves his old coal-mining buddy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who has apparently become a bank-robbing Neo-Nazi and the heir apparent to his father’s criminal empire.

The conflict with Boyd and the rest of the Crowder clan forms the continuing story line for season one, as Raylan tries to protect Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), who justifiably killed Boyd’s brother, while commencing an affair with her that will have serious legal repercussions. The series also has many one-episode plots involving escaped criminals, ambitious low-lifes, crooked gamblers, and the like.

Justified is truly exceptional television. It does everything it tries to do exceptionally well. The plotting is impeccable, the dialogue note-perfect, the show is funny when it can be and deadly serious when it has to be. The acting is superb; Olyphant is the star, but all there is no dead weight in the supporting cast. Nick Searcy hits the right note as the beleaguered boss, Raymond Barry as Arlo Givens is the right kind of gruff old man, Walton Goggins is fascinating to watch, and the format provides ample opportunity for great guest performances by character actors like Stephen Root, Alan Ruck, Tony Hale, and Brett Cullen to name just a few.

I can’t say enough about how good this show is. I can’t think of a person I wouldn’t recommend it to. Watch it. Now. Or be smarter than I am and wait for the second season to come out on DVD, so you can watch it all at once.

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