Justified is the best new show on television. I’ve covered since it premiered and it’s clear that it’s having an impact, garnering tons of positive press and a loyal army of fans.
This is one of those cases where no-brainer typecasting was exactly the route to go. Timothy Olyphant played a mean sheriff on Deadwood so they got him to play a mean Marshall on Justified. And, why not? He’s great at it. Trust me, you don’t want to get into a smoldering stare contest with U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, nor do you want to draw down on him. You especially don’t want to draw down on him. Either way, I tell ya what: you’re gonna lose sumthin’ awful.
But Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens is not your standard white hat (you gotta give it up: that hat is bad-ass). What sets the character, and Olyphant’s performance apart from other bad-ass law enforcers on television is his shame, regret and confusion that accompanies each of his kills. He gets that look before each showdown, where he has to stay hard and alert so the perp won’t win, but what he really wants is for that perp to put down their weapon so one more death won’t take one more chunk out of Raylan’s soul. But that rarely happens, so Raylan has to fire, and (thus far) there’s no quicker gun than him.
And for a second, as the smoke still rises from his pistol, Raylan looks like he’s going to be sick to his stomach. Because he just killed a man who didn’t need to die. And because he’s afraid he’s beginning to like it. He’s becoming the killer; the type he hunts as a U.S. Marshall. Is this who he truly is? Why is he like this? Can he alter this course? Has he been running from his true identity?
The pilot sets the tone, the theme and the central dramatic question of a series. The pilot for Justified opens with Raylan Givens giving a killer an ultimatum to surrender or die in exactly 60 seconds; just as the timer runs out, the con pulls a gun and Raylan shoots and kills him. Did Raylan provoke him? Was this the only way to bring the man to justice? Was this shooting justified? The episode ends with him telling his ex-wife that he never thought he was an angry man. She replies: “Raylan, you’re the angriest man I’ve ever known.” And this troubles him.
Like William Munny in Unforgiven, is he in fact the man that everyone says he is? A stone-cold killer?
The best way for a man who’s runnng from his past to confront his demons is to send him back to his home town. So that’s what the show’s creators have done; this forces Raylan to face his family, old friends and old enemies alike in his search for the true man that he is.
The writers also do a fantastic job at finding reasons for quick-draw matches pretty much every week. This comes as no surprise to fans of creator Graham Yost, an industry veteran screenwriter, producer and director, with such credits as Speed, Broken Arrow, Boomtown, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Yost brings exactly the right balance of character and plot mechanics to the series, and he knows how to convincingly build to that inevitable, oh-so-satisfying six-shooter showdown.
And it all stems from the stories and characters of Elmore Leonard. So there’s a brutally cool creative team behind this show, and it’s paying off.
If you haven’t tuned in yet, do it now. Watch it. You’ve got precisely 1.5 seconds before I draw this firearm. And when I shoot, I aim to kill.
Did I forget to mention the sexy Southern Belles?
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