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With Return of FX Series, Enthusiasm, Praise and Loyalty Are 'Justified'
February 9, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Last year's first-season finale of FX's Justified didn't end merely with a cliffhanger. It ended in the middle of a chase scene -- and as the down-home law-and-disorder drama series begins its second season tonight (Wednesday) at 10 ET, it picks up right where it left off. But before long, we're thrown into a whole new story line of second chances, new villains, and an artful mix of comedy, drama and character that does series inspiration Elmore Leonard proud...

Based on Leonard's Fire in the Hole story, Justified centers on Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played to playful perfection by Timothy Olyphant. For the second series in a row, he stars as a man who speaks softly and carries a big hat.


On David Milch's magnificent HBO Western series Deadwood, Olyphant portrated a more reluctant and taciturn lawman -- and, as sheriff Seth Bullock, was wonderful in what could easily have a career-best role and performance.

Instead, with his very next series, Olyphant captures, without a single false note or showy overreach, the heart and soul of another impressively distinct, and memorable, TV character. And one who, for the most part, enjoys a few rounds of verbal sparring.

Olyphant's Raylan Givens doesn't just stare down danger without flinching. He plays with it, like a cat with a field mouse -- or, in the case of tonight's excellent premiere, like a cold-as-ice marshal squaring off against a country hothead who's wielding both a loaded gun and a dead rat.

Raylan is a crack shot, but he's just as liable to crack wise -- and to defuse situations with his fast patter and arrogantly persuasive manner, rather than drawing and firing his gun at almost every opportunity.

That was last year. This year, with a twinkle in his eye, he sprays a bad guy with gasoline instead of bullets -- and gets his man just the same.


Except, this season, the man he's after who's running things in Kentucky isn't a man at all -- but a backwoods matriarch named Mags Bennett, played with an icy drawl by Margo Martindale, whom cable purists should recognize from recurring roles on both FX's The Riches and Showtime's Dexter. She, too, prefers to wield different weapons when dealing with adversaries. Poisonous moonshine, for example. Or one of her obedient, none-too-bright sons.


Executive producer Graham Yost and his team have moved their primary pieces all over the chess board this year. Walton Goggins' astonishingly nuanced Boyd Crowder, the ostensible villain as the series began last season, is the finest example of this.

He went through last year having a religious epiphany that few people took seriously, enduring an epiphany about that epiphany, and ending the season by siding with Raylan in a shootout to the death -- but not theirs.

This season, what is Boyd up to, and which side is he on? Tough to say -- and the same goes to Natalie Zea as Raylan's ex-wife, who shows increasing signs of wanting to be an ex-ex. Like other plot lines in Justified, they're not predictable, not neatly resolved, and not at all common to what's dramatized elsewhere on television.

Like most of the best dramas on TV, Justified is also, when it needs to be, one of the best comedies. It's a show that will make you laugh, but it's also a show that's perfectly capable of making you gasp. And, most definitely, making you think about its characters long after the show itself is over.

A bit of full disclosure: Between seasons on Justified, one of our TVWW contributors -- my own son, Mark, whose column here is called The Son Also Criticizes -- got a (paying!) job as a writers' assistant and producer's assistant on Justified. But I was enthusiastic about the show before he climbed aboard, and I see no reason to stop now. In fact, for the record, I'm quite proud of him.

And that's why, these days, he's not often writing for us. He's very busy, at the moment, not writing for Justified...




moviegourmet said:

Justified had me from the opening scene season 1 and I am so thankful that season 2 is here. From the writing to the editing the show is flawless. Raylan was a fictional character that has taken on a life of his own. Your son has been given a great opportunity.

Winter's Bone, a noir thriller in a similar setting, is up for Best Picture and I highly recommend it if you can find it. I participate in a film society that showed the film this past summer and so I am very fortunate to be one of the few to have seen it.

[Since I'm always giving out recommendations, I'm happy to prove I can take it as well as dish it out. I'll seek out Winter's Bone on your say-so. Thanks. And thanks for the nice words about Justified. I'll pass them on to Mark. -- DB]

Comment posted on February 10, 2011 10:53 AM

Elias said:

I can't express how happy I was that this show was good. I'm a huge fan of both Elmore Leonard's books and of Timothy Olyphant,and bringing the two together in such a gritty, funny, fantastic show has been great. The supporting cast is phenomenal and Goggins plays such a complex and twisted character...

Comment posted on February 11, 2011 10:47 AM

jan said:

I second the recommendation on Winter's Bone, which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray (I saw the Blu-ray, and it's wonderful). Very atmospheric, and everyone in it is terrific--even the smaller characters who are often just local people. I hope you'll mention--when and if you watch it--what you think of it, although I know this is specifically a TV blog. The area does kind of remind me of Justified--Southern hill country, you know.

[I'll report back. The masses have spoken. Well, two masses, anyway. -- DB]

Comment posted on February 14, 2011 9:59 AM

Jim said:

Congrats to your son. I felt an instant bond: my son also works for Justified, as supervising producer (and writer of 3 episodes) this season. Your son's in good hands--this is, according to Dave, the best group of writers he's had the opportunity to work with, and he really feels a part of something special. If it's your son's first gig, it's a great place to start.

[Dear Jim -- What a cool piece of insider information to share. Congrats to YOUR son even more. Ask him about the "meat literature" TV shows they all spent a few days concocting the titles of. My son came up with, among others, "The Merchant of Venison" and "Porterhouse-Five." Which ones will YOUR son claim? Or admit to? -- DB]

Comment posted on February 28, 2011 1:54 PM

JIm said:

Hi, DB,

Sorry I haven't gotten back sooner. I'll have to ask Dave about the meat literature episode. As I'm sure you know, they've wrapped up for the year, but they'll all be back in August for another great season!

[With a Peabody for the mantelpiece, too. Good for them. -- DB]

Comment posted on April 29, 2011 10:30 AM
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