If You Aren’t Watching ‘Justified’ You’re Doing TV Wrong

I’ve long lamented the current state of television, so I’ll spare you today by highlighting something that I actually do like. I actually never thought I’d write this about a show set in Kentucky (although it’s filmed in California), but Justified is the best show running outside of premium TV (still can’t put it ahead of Game of Thrones) and you need to be watching it.

The truth is, Justified has an exceedingly simple concept and should be fodder for the average viewer that I have so disparaged in this space. The story follows US Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) who has recently (three seasons ago) been reassigned from Miami back to his boyhood home in Eastern Kentucky. See, Raylan has a nasty habit of shooting suspects and he’s shot one too many in Florida. Once back in Kentucky Givens finds himself facing off with (and occasionally teaming up with) his best friend Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), an aspiring hillbilly crimelord who over the show’s three seasons has evolved from a loathsome neo-Nazi, into a “redeemed” back-woods preacher, into a strangely lovable anti-hero.

Each episode generally revolves around a procedural storyline, during which Raylan does Marshall stuff (tracking fugitives, protecting witnesses, shooting people) against the backdrop of a conflict between the larger, more malevolent forces in his life (usually Boyd and one or two other “big” bad guys). The larger, overarching storylines are allowed to simmer in the periphery before coming to a head in the final few episodes of the season. In this sense, there’s a little bit there for everyone. For fans of NCIS there’s a crime procedural, gun fights, Stetson hats, Southern accents, and very few big words. For people who appreciate good TV there’s actual story, human characters with plenty of flaws, and well written dialogue. And for people like me who enjoy staring at pretty ladies, there’s plenty of that too.

What truly sets Justified apart is the quality of its acting. The cast is across the board excellent, but the two standouts are Olyphant and Goggins. Olyphant is perhaps best known for playing another (former) Marshall, Sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood. He plays Givens with a bit more swagger, where Bullock was very much the strong, silent type, Givens is often glib. He’s Clint Eastwood with a sense of humor.

The real treasure, though, is Goggins, a veteran of another great FX show: The Shield. Goggins’ performance lends Crowder an air of casual, menacing intelligence. When contrasted with the usual dumbassery of the backwoods criminals featured on the show it becomes clear that Boyd Crowder is an entirely different animal, a would be Michael Corleone in a flannel shirt. Justified‘s writers along with Goggins, have managed to turn Boyd Crowder into the most complex TV villain since Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen on Deadwood. 

Justified airs at 10 pm ET on FX and if you aren’t watching you’re doing TV wrong.

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Posted on February 21, 2012, in Quality Programming and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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