Justified (Season 1)

justified1_While we now live in the era of binge viewing with ‘box sets’ available from Netflix, Prime etc, I have been watching this show steadily in weekly episodes when I go visit my folks. Its mixture of a modern-day Western with extended character arcs and season-long plots has proved very entertaining to them, so I thought I’d share some thought on it, though with one caveat: we have been watching it dubbed into Italian. So it’s kind of like a modern-day ‘spaghetti western’ to us …

The following review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film/TV meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

“Miami is a sunny place for shady people’”

Elmore Leonard, having already published several Westerns, made the transition to full-time writing via his book (and subsequent screenplay) The Moonshine War, set in Prohibition-era Kentucky, before switching to his popular series of contemporary crime stories set in Detroit and Miami. Justified is something of a deliberately anachronistic hybrid, a modern-day western focussing on the exploits of Stetson-baring US Marshall Raylan Givens (lanky Timothy Olyphant), who is transferred from Miami after gunning down a local gangster (a scarily cadaveric Peter Greene) and sent back home to Kentucky.

The opening episode is an exciting and very faithful adaptation of Leonard’s 60-page novella ‘Fire in the Hole’ but the series initially stumbles a little after this. This is partly as a result of the decision to bring forward the episode introducing Raylan’s disreputable father Arlo, and so slightly skewing the chronology of the series, but also due to some repetitiveness creeping in: there are several episodes featuring sieges, jokes are made about how often Raylan’s girlfriend Ava gets kidnapped and one story is based purely around whether our hero will actually manage not to kill anyone this week. Rather more damaging is the constant reuse of a particular narrative strategy in which a character turns round and suddenly shoots a confederate apparently without provocation – the surprise element really does ware off after seven episodes in a row.

Raylan Givens: Dear Lord, before we eat this meal we ask forgiveness for our sins, especially Boyd- who blew up a black church with a rocket launcher, and afterwards he shot his associate Jared Hale in the back of the head out on Tate’s Creek bridge. Let the image of Jared’s brain matter on that windshield not dampen our appetites, but may the knowledge of Boyd’s past sins help guide these men. May this food provide them with all the nourishment they need. But, if it does not, may they find comfort in knowing that the United States Marshal Service is offering fifty-thousand dollars to any individual providing information that will put Boyd back in prison. Cash or check, we can make it out to them. Or to Jesus. Whoever they want. In your name, we pray. Amen.

On the other hand, the source novella is expanded with considerable skill and imagination by show runner Graham Yost and his team, without letting its original vigour flag or betraying the characteristic tang of Leonard’s laconic humour. In addition Walton Goggins as Raylan’s specular nemesis Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist with a penchant for using rocket launchers who has a religious conversion in prison to become a vigilante with messianic delusions, is fabulously entertaining. Mind you, there are a lot of scene-stealers here, including Nick Searcy as Raylan’s long-sufferign boss Art Mullen and Natalie Zea as Raylan’s (sort of) ex-wife Winona.

Winona: It’s kind of hard to stay mad at Raylan.

There is plenty of gunplay too and some outrageous violence, including a wince-inducing bit of DIY dentistry, before the narrative deftly comes full circle to conclude with a good old-fashioned shoot-out. The second season offered a considerable step up, reducing the number of stand-alone elements to tell a more unified tale, and indeed may see the show at its best. But that’s another story …

Disc: The image transfer is spotless while the 5.1 audio is wonderfully rich and spacious. The half hour of extras include an amusing tribute to Elmore Leonard from the show’s large writing team.

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in Elmore Leonard, Film Noir, Kentucky, Noir on Tuesday, Scene of the crime, Tuesday's Overlooked Film and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Justified (Season 1)

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’ve been hearing about this one, Sergio. And you know, I think a novella is a very good length for adaptation. It’s good to know it worked here, for the most part.

  2. Colin says:

    I’d forgotten about this. I’d had it recommended (maybe even by yourself?) and planned to catch up with it but then, somehow, it just slipped my mind or got lost in the shuffle.

  3. le0pard13 says:

    Loved this show, especially the writing (mimicking Elmore Leonard’s style). Plus, as each season progressed, ’tis the rare thing that JUSTIFIED’s craft and cast became more honed and honored. Looking forward to your thoughts on season two and beyond, Sergio.

  4. tracybham says:

    We have watched the first season but it was a while ago, and I don’t remember specifics, but we did like it a lot. Very violent though. We do intend to continue watching it someday.

  5. Timothy Olyphant is entertaining, either as a hero or a villain. I’ll see if the series is available on Netflix India. We’re currently watching THE CROWN. Thanks for this review, Sergio.

  6. mikeripley says:

    For a while I thought I was the only person who watched “Justified” in the UK where television schedulers didn’t make it easy to find. I loved it as a modern western with a growing ensemble cast of good guys (Raylan’s fellow Marshals) and a spectacular cast of baddies – Boyd (and Ava) Crowder, Dewey Crowe, Wynn Duffy et al. Also watch out for the delightful Mary Steenbergen playing against type in the last series. I took to “Justified” whilst suffering withdrawal symptoms after the perfunctory ending of the magnificent “Deadwood”. To ease the pangs of being without “Justified”, I discovered “Banshee” – which is “Justified” turned up to eleven plus, bizarrely, a lot of Amish soul-searching, sex and ultra-violence.

    • Thanks for that Mike – I only got as far as season 1 of BANSHEE as I found it a bit much (tender-hearted soul that I am)

      • Jeff Flugel says:

        Another fan of BANSHEE here, though if you found season 1 too tough going, Sergio, then I can’t rightly recommend the remaining seasons, as they’re just as uber-violent. I will say it is a very strong, well-made series with outstanding action choreography for the first three seasons, then goes slightly off the rails for the final, albeit still entertaining, season.

  7. Patti Abbott says:

    Although there was a bad season somewhere along the line, on the whole it was dandy.

    • We are now awaiting for the concluding season to be released in Italy … it was only shown a few months ago on TV but they do seem to be dragging their stetsons a little on this one 🙂

  8. Paula Carr says:

    My older sister was recommending this series, but I never even started to watch it. I thought she was mainly watching it because of her crush on Olyphant. But she never told me it was based on Elmore Leonard’s work. I’ve even read “The Moonshine Wars!” I’ll have to binge watch it. Thanks for the push.

  9. I’d never heard of this – there is so much content in the world these days, I can’t keep up! Probably not for me, and perhaps that’s lucky in terms of time. But very interesting review.

  10. Jeff Flugel says:

    Loved this show from the get-go, Sergio, and am one of those who preferred the slightly-more old-school heroics of the first season to the rest, though season 2 is very strong indeed. Only season 5 faltered for me a little bit, due to some miscalculations with that season’s “big bad.” Also, this is one of those rare series that goes out on a near-perfect final episode. Besides the excellent central performances from Olyphant and Goggins, the supporting cast of JUSTIFIED is wonderfully deep, with special nods going to Nick Searcy as Art, Jere Burns as winnebago-living gangster Wynn Duffy and Damon Herriman as perpetual small-time chump Dewey Crowder. Hope you and your folks keep on trucking through the rest of the series, mate!

    • Thanks Jeff – I think we are in complete sync on this – in a way I too preferred to reduced emphasis on a season arc in the first year, though the complex villainess of season 2 made such a powerful impression that I guess they couldn’t face going back. I though the finale of season three (the whole ‘man in the hat’ thing) was very subtle and really well done. I agree, five did feel a bit repetitive. Really looking forward to 6!

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