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So long, Justified

tn_justifiedThere are many great shows that have transcended or elevated the television artform, that have been compared favorably to cinema or to great novels. Some of them I’ve seen, some I’ll catch up with some day. But Justified was my kind of show. It was full of badass bravado, dry humor, a love of language and personality. Like the Elmore Leonard books that inspired it it was accessible and unpretentious, but also smart and original. I like to think it could be enjoyed by snooty book lovers as much as by people who liked Walker, Texas Ranger.

I came to it as an enjoyer of Leonard. I remember hearing there was gonna be another show based on one of his characters, starring Timothy Olyphant, and I was curious to check it out in case it might be decent. Then I happened to see an extended preview, a clip of the scene from the pilot where Raylan meets Dewey Crowe and bangs his head against a steering wheel. And I thought oh shit, this actually looks seriously good. I’m gonna have to make an effort to actually watch a TV show from the beginning. And come to think of it I watched the entire series as it aired each week, that’s pretty rare for me.

Leonard has not had a good track record on television. I don’t mean in quality of adaptation, but in survival. There was that show of Maximum Bob with Beau Bridges. It got good reviews and was cancelled before I ever caught an episode. Years later there was Karen Sisco. I thought, now how do you make a TV version of a character that was so perfectly portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in the best Elmore Leonard adaptation ever? And then Carla Gugino came and changed my idea of who that character is. And that one I did manage to watch most of the episodes but again, cancelled before the season even finished. And neither show has ever been released on the home video.

So it’s surprising and great that not only was Justified so good, but it had the chance to last for six seasons, continue to grow in popularity, and go out on a high note. And on purpose – I’m sure FX would’ve let them make two or three or four more seasons if they’d wanted to.

The pilot was closely based on the short story “Fire in the Hole,” but Timothy Olyphant’s version of the Raylan Givens character was pretty different from the one seen in the books Pronto and Riding the Rap (or James LeGros’s interpretation in the made-for-cable PRONTO movie). Still, Leonard himself loved the first season of the show so much he got excited and wrote up a bunch of ideas for their second season, which I believe is what became the book Raylan.

The first season was great in that it was a bunch of little stand alone stories about Raylan dealing with different fugitives and criminals, introducing so many Leonardesque situations with antagonists who, though often stupid and incompetent, were given as much narrative respect as the heroes. By the second season they realized it was impossible to keep making up new fake Leonard stories over and over again and they evolved into the more normal modern approach of an overarching season-long story focusing on a new villain, in this case the moonshine loving marijuana matriarch Mags Bennett and her dumbass kids. At first I was worried that the show was abandoning its short story roots, but luckily this ended up being one of the best seasons of the show.

My favorite is the third, though. That’s the one built around Quarles, played by Neal McDonough. I’ve been a fan of that guy in various movies but I’ve never seen him in a role even half that good. He’s menacing and hilarious and you keep finding out he’s worse than you thought. I forget how many episodes in it was when it was casually revealed that oh yeah, also he has some kid handcuffed to a bed at his place. Not a good person in my opinion.

The fourth season is my least favorite, but still very good. Both it and the fifth were wise to mix it up and try different approaches rather than coming up with a new main villain in the tradition of seasons 2 and 3. 4 revolved around a D.B. Cooper mystery about some money that went missing in a hijacking years ago. 5 suffered from some plans that had to be abandoned when at least one actor decided to leave the show unexpectedly, but I think it passes for the kind of random ways things resolve themselves in Leonard stories. There’s a major character in that season who suddenly dies because he steps in a hole while holding a gun and blows his own head off knife and stabs himself. That’s kind of how the season went, and I’m okay with that.

But this last set of episodes, man, they were firing on all cylinders. They knew it was the final season so they unloaded a whole clip of classic Leonard style villains. Going back over it it’s kind of crazy how many cool characters they introduced and offed just this year. And here are some of the great character actors who show up in season 6: Sam Elliott, Garret Dillahunt, Jeff Fahey, Scott Grimes, Jake Busey, Shea Whigham. To me the breakout is Choo Choo, played by Duke Davis Roberts. He’s a young war vet who speaks strangely because of a brain injury, who has a little more soul to him than the big dumb lug everybody takes him for. But not that much more.

I haven’t yet mentioned the show’s secondary lead, Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins. He and Raylan grew up together in Harlan County, Kentucky and worked the coal mines together, but now he’s a white supremacist explosives expert with big plans. He was supposed to die in the pilot, but they liked him so much they kept him around. In my opinion this was a weakness of the show sometimes – there definitely were stretches where it felt like they were just having to make excuses to keep he and his girlfriend/Raylan’s ex Ava (Joelle Carter) on the show. Luckily by the end of a season it was usually clear why they belonged in the story, but there were times when it might’ve helped to give them a break. Boyd became so likable that they would have to periodically make a show of him killing a nice person or taking his shirt off to show you his swastika tattoo. Hey, remember guys, this is the bad guy.

Still, it is fitting and satisfying that the series ends up being equally about these three characters. The most enjoyable theme of Leonard’s stories, from 3:10 To Yuma to Out of Sight to Rum Punch, is the relationships and shared experiences of characters on opposite sides of the law. Raylan and Boyd really are enemies, but also you can tell they really like each other. Even when they’re at odds there’s alot of smiling and joking. I mean, they must kinda be friends still, otherwise how did they go this long without shooting each other?

And even as it grew and got better, this show retained its sense of humor and its likability. It’s a show that could’ve gotten away with killing off almost any character, and certainly season 6 became open season on enjoyable regulars. But I think I can say without spoiling too much (but skip to the next paragraph if you’re extra spoiler sensitive) that they don’t end up trying some nihilistic bullshit ending. They don’t kill off a bunch of beloved good guys to teach us a lesson about life is hard or some crap like that. Man, I was sure Constable Bob was gonna get it. He was the LL Cool J in DEEP BLUE SEA of this show.

Chief Rachel and Deputy Tim spin-off is what I’m getting at, obviously. Let’s have it. Because Tim is my favorite supporting character. I’m glad he got to get in alot of his dry wit in this last season.

Man, I feel like I’m writing an obituary. I am gonna miss Justified. So pour some moonshine or Kentucky bourbon or something on the curb for a great, fun show. Congratulations and thank you and what not to everybody who made that thing. And Hollywood, for god’s sake give Olyphant some good movie roles. You didn’t know what to do with him before, now he’s ten times cooler, he deserves better than what he deserved before that he didn’t get. Don’t fuckin blow this, you guys.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 at 11:42 am and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “So long, Justified”

  1. Going to miss this show so damn much. I love how super Elmore Leonard-y this last season was, like it came from the pen of the man himself.

    And I completely second your Rachel/Tim spinoff idea. I would watch the hell out of that.

  2. One Guy From Andromeda

    April 15th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    If i had known it changed from villain of the week to story arch in season two i would not have stopped watching. The first season just seemed so old fashioned to me with these self contained stories. So i got a lot of catching up to do i suppose. God damn.

  3. Me, I want a Choo Choo prequel.

  4. I’m also going to miss this show so damn much. Haven’t felt that way since The Shield, probably won’t again until the end of Banshee.

    Season 3 was also my favorite. Neal McDonough is just such a fun actor to see go unhinged, and pairing him with Wynn Duffy provided some really funny stuff. I loved Jere Burns’ dry delivery of lines like “Are you smoking Oxycontin in my motor coach?” or when he says Quarles’ has “a big stupid baby head.”

    Though Vern, Season 5-wise I think you’re conflating Danny Crowe with White Boy Bob from Out of Sight. Danny dies by falling on his knife while trying to demonstrate the 21 foot rule.

  5. Oh, you’re right, JTS. The part I remembered was that it was a grave for a dog he stepped in.

  6. This is gonna leave a huge hole in my Tuesday nights. Justified was easily my favorite show of the past few years, even more than Breaking Bad. It wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or create prestigious television. It was just interested in telling a solid story the best way it could, and I’ll always appreciate it for that.

  7. The Atlantic has a great article about how JUSTIFIED was unjustly overlooked… too good to be dismissed as a mere cop-on-the-edge police procedural but not revolutionary enough to be anointed into the hallowed halls of “prestige television”. I tried evangelizing about the show, Boyd Crowder style, to anyone who would listen, but the joys of the show are really hard to articulate and it’s hard to explain the premise without making it sound like the most generic show on Earth. So eventually I stopped bothering and just enjoyed it.

    Apparently the hat Raylan gets later in the episode is actually the style of hat Elmore Leonard originally picked for Raylan before Yost opted for his Stetson. I think Yost was right, but it was a nice tip of the hat (heh) to Leonard.

  8. I loved this show, from the 2nd season on. The first one was a little bumpy to me at the time, so I may have to revisit it at some point. The sting of losing TERRIERS was eased greatly by the 2nd season, which turned me around completely. I was hooked from there on. For me, FX have over the years been 2nd to only HBO for producing great shows (though Netflix and Amazon are starting to catch up), and this is one major reason why to me.

    FWIW Vern, Olyphant has a major supporting role in Oliver Stone’s upcoming SNOWDEN, playing a CIA agent who befriended Edward before he fled for Russia. Goggins has a bit of a brighter future ahead, being one of Tarantino’s HATEFUL EIGHT and a role on VICE PRINCIPALS for HBO next year.

  9. Man, this show was so great. I’m really going to miss it. The writing was so stellar; great dialogue and characters. Leonard is one of the few writers that I enjoy watching dumbass criminals do their thing. Most of the time I’m just biding my time, waiting for the main character to come back, but they really were able to stick to Leonard’s gift of making these characters interesting. It was almost like a sociological experiment. These are people and places I am never going to see in a million years, so to get a glimpse into their lives was fascinating. Which reminds me of one of my favorite lines when the Marshall’s office wanted to send Raylan out to Harlan for some reason and he said, “What am I, the hillbilly whisperer?”

    Another favorite line was in the episode where they were protecting the wife/art of a guy under indictment and his art collection included a bunch of Hitler’s work. They were driving the expert out and Raylan said something like (I’m not going to get the exact quote), “You have a right to your hobbies, and I have a right to think those hobbies are weird.”

    I too loved Neal McDonough, but you knew he was going to be awesome. He always is. I was so impressed by Margo Martindale who played Mags Bennett. I was not familiar with her before, so she was a wonderful revelation. I think Goggins did his best work when Boyd was struggling with going straight. That was just so heartbreaking to watch because you knew it was going to end up in failure, but you truly believed he was trying.

    That leaves me with Olyphant. I am 100% behind Vern’s admonition to Hollywood to treat him right. I saw something in him clear back when he played the drug dealer scumbag in GO. I’m so happy he got the chance to sink his teeth into this fabulous role and can’t wait to see what he brings us next.

  10. I’ve been a fan of ‘Justified’ since the beginning (I remember watching the pilot; it was available for free download from iTunes), though I’ve fallen a little bit behind: I need to catch up on these last two seasons. But what I really want to say is (sorry for being off-topic): “Vern, are you or are you planning on watching Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’?! I’ve been watching the first season that just premiered (and ended) last week, and I the eastern-inspired action reminded me immediately of your love of classic, lightly-edited, wide-shot fight scenes. The end of episode two featured a battle in a hallway between Daredevil and several criminals where the camera just sat there for like two minutes it seemed (I’d have to watch it again to see if I remember it right; people say it was inspired by ‘Oldboy’). And now I’ve gotten past episode nine, and all I can say is NINJA FIGHT!!! Vern, is this show on your radar? Cause, you know, it should be!

  11. Oh, and I forgot to say, I’m on board for the Rachel/Tim spin-off. Tim was my favorite secondary character as well. I really liked seeing a little more of him when they were dealing with the sister of that snake charmer preacher. I was hoping to keep seeing more.

  12. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    April 16th, 2015 at 3:40 am

    I came across this show via this website. Also the fine works of Elmore Leonard. Many thanks one and all!

  13. Wynn Duffy’s one of my favorite bad guys on Justified. That character just got better and better. The verbal sparring between him and Raylan were priceless.

  14. Vern, if you’re a Neal McDonough fan, do yourself a favor and track down the TV series Boomtown. It was created by Justified showrunner Graham Yost and McDonough was one of the regulars. It only last a season and a half, but the first season is on DVD and it’s fantastic.

  15. This final season has been very good and a satisfying conclusion, to what has been one of my favorite shows of all time.

  16. In praising this great show, Vern goes the reticent route regarding the Justified theme music, and we probably should do the same. However, I will mention that I always enjoyed when the opening sequence crescendoed to a tense audiovisual beat that segued & matched perfectly the opening note of the hillbilly rap ditty. Good tele-filmatism in my opinion.

    Justified gets a little lost in the ‘Greatest TV Ever’ conversation, I think, for a few [unfair] reasons. It tended to maintain a near-constant plateau of cleverness & enjoyability instead of relying on cliffhangers or slow-burning toward a big boom catharsis or having catchphrasey, meme-y dialogue. All the best Harlan County moments are difficult to explain outside the full context of the show. You need to see Olyphant’s eyebrows or the way someone hesitates with a facial expression or the way a scene suddenly cuts to one of the doofus criminals doing something incongruous in order for the joke to land and the suspense to pay off. Unlike a lot of shows, you couldn’t make a 2 minute trailer or a Justified sizzle reel montage that adequately conveys what it is and why it’s great.

    And this might sound like a weird observation but it seems to me that most of Justified‘s action happens in the daytime, and therefore a lot of critical-minded people are going to be less likely to take it as seriously as other shows that get automatic prestige points for being ‘dark-&-gritty.’ With more nighttime set pieces, people would be more willing to recognize the impressively somber moments and the fucked-up violent incidents. Instead, Justified stays mostly light (literally). A lot of viewers don’t think the stakes in an excellent comedic action-drama-western with so many fun characters like this are as high as the stakes in a more ‘serious’ show about serial killers or dragons or whatever.

    Early in the series Winona says, “Raylan, you do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly, you’re the angriest man I have ever known.” This one statement informed my entire perspective of Justified. I found this fascinating, even when Raylan’s anger turned out to be based mostly on daddy issues (a character-psychology convention I always find boring, though at least in this case there is a more-complex-than-usual backstory of abuse & abandonment etc.). I also applied this idea of a character being motivated by a well of internal anger to Marshall Tim Gutterson, the ex-Ranger sniper, and to Marshall Rachel, the petite black lady dishing out justice & flashing her badge in a place that ain’t friendly to petite black ladies with a badge. When the world tests them, when they should be incoherently angry and drowning in regret & self-doubt, their professionalism always wins; Raylan’s quickdraw always wins. These guys have shed so much blood and worked for so long within the scumbag universe to defeat so many scumbags they can’t be normal human beings, yet I sure enjoy hanging out with them and being on their side.

    Also I liked that part with the rocket launcher. And the snakes.

  17. I agree, the opening beat and banjo lick of the theme is always a beautiful transition. It’s only the vocals that I have always found to be a huge embarrassment. But I’m glad people on here appreciate it. I just won’t be getting any mix tapes from them.

  18. And Hollywood, for god’s sake give Olyphant some good movie roles. You didn’t know what to do with him before, now he’s ten times cooler, he deserves better than what he deserved before that he didn’t get.

    You ain’t kidding:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitman_%282007_film%29

    I’m enjoying “American Crime” on ABC. Really smart, brutal show. Much recommended. But apparently it’s been tanking in the ratings:

    http://nypost.com/2015/04/16/tv-justice-abc-should-renew-american-crime/

  19. Jareth Cutestory

    April 18th, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Okay, I’ll be That Guy: Vern, if you haven’t seen DEADWOOD, it’s two too-brief seasons might fill the Olyphant-sized hole in your viewing schedule. It meets a lot of the criteria for compelling television that you mention in your obituary, particularly the love of language. Olyphant’s character on that show might be the most constantly angry dude ever put on television.

    Also, Ian McShane’s performance on DEADWOOD, in my opinion, is one of the great performances of all time, bar none, better, I’d be willing to argue, than Gandolfini on SOPRANOS. It’s also got Larry from Larry, Daryl and Daryl fame.

    Also worth watching is HIGH LIFE, in which Olyphant plays against type as a hapless stoner involved in a bank heist. Fun stuff.

    On topic: Season Two of JUSTIFIED was magnificent. The climactic scene with Margo Martindale was heartbreaking.

  20. Well I have some catching up to do with this show. two seasons to be exact.But it´s justified. This show never got a break on tv over here, so I could never really follow it and the on-demand services kind of suck so I´d usually have to wait for the import dvd´s to come around and those are pretty damn expensive. I´m glad it went out great. can´t wait to see those last episodes.

  21. Darth Irritable

    April 20th, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Jareth, Deadwood is awesome that’s true, but it’s a very different flavor of Olyphant to Justified, missing some of the nuances of Justified – more one note anger. It’s kind of like Coke Zero when you asked for Coke.

  22. I think Olyphant was good in Justified, but I feel like that character was so-so. Justified brought out his real star quality. LOVED this show, I think the villains were best in 2, but I thought they did the best job in 3 of having stand-alone stories that fit into the main plot well. This last season was just top-notch.

  23. Anyone watch LONGMIRE? It’s basically what would have happened if JUSTIFIED somehow went to CBS, but that’s not entirely a bad thing to me. Hopefully without spoiling it, season 3 towards the end got less and less episodic and I’m hoping that trend continues into season 4, especially now that Netflix has picked it up.

  24. I’m a big fan of LONGMIRE. Looking forward to see it on Netflix. It feels like the kind of show that could benefit from less restrictions.

  25. I think with how intense it also got towards the end of S3, it would be back-stepping a bit if the new season goes the procedural route it was in for much of the series.

    Above all else this has shown me that if anyone’s worthy of a McConnaissance now, it’s Lou Diamond Phillips. He’s absolutely wonderful on the show.

  26. So, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, the book that Raylan hands over to Tim in the final episode of JUSTIFIED is on blu-ray. I bought the book a while back and thought it was a brilliant piece of crime fiction. I love this novels depiction of criminals with extreme low self-awareness, blaming others for their own misfortunes or where they are going with their life choices.

    The opening scene of the book, also brilliantly depicted in Yates film in which Eddie schools a young armsdealer in unless you know what you are doing you are gonna get fucked. Ironically, Eddie is the one that fails to see his own mistakes and are constantly digging an even bigger hole for him to come out off.

    Mitchum is awesome in the film. i remember Eddie being a bigger asshole in the book, but Mitchum makes him more human. A tired old criminal who never made the big time.

    And what kind of an armsdealer ridies around in the most non-inconspicous green monstrosity of a car with assault rifles in the trunk?

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