I haven’t made it much of a secret on this blog that Westerns are my guilty pleasure genre. I’ll always be more of a Clint Eastwood man than John Wayne but even the Duke’s presence is just about enough of a reason for me to watch a classic oater. The gorgeous vistas of the American southwest (or Italy if Sergio Leone is involved) along side archetypal tales of civilization vs. the wilderness are an essential part of my youth and Lonesome Dove remains one of my favorite miniseries of all time (only eclipsed by The Corner and Band of Brothers). This last decade has seen a neo-western revival where the breathtaking on-location shooting of classic westerns has been updated to modern settings and modern themes whether this be the unspoken love of Brokeback Mountain, the noirish dread and ennui of No Country for Old Men, or even the meth-fueled showdowns of Breaking Bad (the best show currently on television). One of my favorite HBO shows (which I actually may prefer to The Sopranos) was the Western classic Deadwood which was canceled in its prime, and when I heard Deadwood‘s Timothy Olyphant had been cast in a neo-western crime drama I knew I had to watch it. Unfortunately, I never actually got around to watching the show until just now when my dad bought me the first season for Christmas and it is now my goal to run through this show as quickly as I can so that I finish Seasons 1 & 2 before Season 3 begins in a couple of weeks. This may not be one of the best shows on TV, but it’s a fun pulpy ride with one of the most certifiably bad-ass protagonists on TV whose name isn’t Daryl Dixon.

Justified is the tale of U.S. Marshall Raylen Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a renegade lawman if there ever was one. To say that Raylen makes Jimmy McNulty’s (The Wire) brief flirtations with working outside the system seem tame would be an understatement. The series begin with a classic Western showdown between Raylen and a Miami gun-runner. Raylen has given the criminal 24 hours to leave town, or he will shoot him for a vicious murder he committed in the past. Perched at a posh hotel’s dinner table, Raylen has come to enforce the deadline. Though the gun-runner pulls his gun before the time limit is up (and thus Raylen shoots him), it is made clear that Raylen would have shot no matter what. As punishment for his actions, Raylen is transferred to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky where he quickly ends up immersed in all of the old family hostilities and dark pasts that he had been trying to escape. Upon his return, he discovers that his ex-wife is living in his old house with her new husband and that his former best friend, Boyd Crowder (a scene-stealing Walton Goggins), is a white supremacist blowing up black churches as well as being involved with drug trafficking. In addition to more personal problems such as his criminal father Arlo (Raymond Berry), Raylen still has to deal with escaped convicts, renegade bookies, and more gun fights than any cop in rural Kentucky should have to deal with.

Let me get this out of the way up front. This isn’t art house TV.  The characters talk like they’ve walked straight out of the pages of a dime pulp fiction novel (though this is based off of an Elmore Leonard short story so that’s to be expected), and there is absolutely no way that Raylen Givens would have a job in law enforcement the way he shoots first more than Han Solo at Greedo (HAN SHOT FIRST DAMN IT!). And Raylen engages in feats of such outrageous bad-assery on such a regular basis that I’m surprised he isn’t a comic book superhero. He and Frank Castle (The Punisher for all non comic fans out there) should team up at some point in the future and just wipe out all of the criminals in the world. I’m not saying these things are bad. I would certainly love a book full of the many, many kick-ass quotes Raylen has uttered to cause spontaneous loss of bowel control of the criminals in the Justified universe just from these five episodes alone. Because the series tries to attain a very specific pulpy, dime novel feel, it works for the show. I’m just so used to more serious crime dramas like Breaking Bad or The Wire that I was a little un-used to how the show played out in a more action-packed pace. Breaking Bad would have an entire half a season devoted to putting the pieces in place for an explosive finale. Justified lets the explosions happen much more frequently, and while I would prefer a more serialized approach (only two of the five episodes so far have been what I would call arc-centric), I’ll take a hero as fun as Raylen Givens any day.

If you like Westerns or crime dramas (and are tired of the glut of crime procedurals), there isn’t anything quite like Justified on TV. There about a million books out there like because it successfully emulates the pulp fiction genre better than anything since, well, Pulp Fiction, but there isn’t anything on TV that looks or feels like Justified. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are great (though I really wish there was more of Goggins at this point) and the introduction of Raylen’s father in the last episode on the disc piqued my interest after three straight stand-alone episodes. This can finally be the show on TV that I can enjoy without having to think to hard about things (True Blood filled that void til it completely fell apart) and not have to feel guilty about enjoying (I’m looking at you Glee). I’m going to speed through this show (though don’t worry loyal readers, I will still find time for Doctor Who and Neon Genesis Evangelion) because I definitely want to prepared for the Season 3 premiere. I’ve pontificated on the cross-intellectual level appeal of bad-asses in some reviews of The Walking Dead before (Daryl Dixon I miss you), and for everyone jonesing for a good old-fashioned American bad-ass, you won’t have to look much further than Raylen Givens and Justified.

Final Score: B+

Advertisements