Monday, August 16, 2010
JUSTIFIED: A Good Excuse to Watch Timothy Olephant Being Generally Awesome...
I don't have cable. That seems to shock a lot of people, but over the last few years, my viewing habits have changed; I'm just to busy to keep to TV's immutable schedule, and beyond that... there is just not that much I want to watch anymore. Most of what's on Television fails to do the only two things I require of it: interest me, or entertain me. Thankfully I have doting parents with a PVR and a DVD recorder, so I can request the very few things that do succeed in accomplishing one or both of those goals.
Which brings me to JUSTIFIED, an FX original series showcasing one of my favorite actors doing what he does best; playing the baddest Sheriff in a bad town!
JUSTIFIED follows the life of Raylan Givens, a US Marshall who is forced to return to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, after he kills a drug dealer, in what he describes as a 'Justified' shooting in Florida. Returning to Harlan seriously complicates Deputy Marshall Given's life as he worked really hard to get OUT of Harlan, and away from his past, which inevitably comes back to haunt him.
Now, while I enjoy the show, it's not high art; but neither is it aspiring to be. This isn't DEADWOOD or THE SOPRANOS. There's not much subtext to the show, nor does it aspire to impart some sort of wisdom or message through an overarching theme. Quite frankly, the only thing that separates this from it's formulaic Network equivalent, is better writing, acting, and the well timed use of my two favorite words; 'shit' and 'fuck.' JUSTIFIED is a mostly by the book police procedural; every week there is some kind of crime, which Marshall Given's investigates, and solves by the end of the episode. No, JUSTIFIED isn't aspiring to be high art; it's aspiring to be a solidly entertaining and compelling television drama.
Unlike most Network police procedurals, though, there is continuity and subplots that career through each episode, and a over arching plot that is followed through on throughout the season, involving a family that is basically a redneck mafia, who, despite their lowbrow command of the English language and stereotypically hillbilly-ish appearance, are experts at squeaking by the law.
The show is set in the deep South, but unlike most things set in the south by a Southern creator, there is no romanticism, of good ol' boys playing banjo's on the porch and tipping their hats as the Southern Belle's sashay on by. Harlan County is portrayed as something of a crime ridden cesspool; a powder keg ready to explode as races, religions, and feuding families clash and confront each other. White Power pricks spout off about blowing up Synagogues, and how their favorite past time is beating up any person of color that they come in contact with. One of the shows recurring 'villain's' goes to jail and 'finds the Lord', only to use the Word to justify his criminal activities and build a cult of loyal followers around himself as he makes moves to take over his Father's lucrative drug trade, and possibly rape his dead brother's widow. The bad guys are bad, and there's plenty of them to go around in Harlan County. Which is why I think the show works so well for me.
JUSTIFIED, to me, is basically an attempt to modernize the classic Western paradigm and bring it to the 20th Century. It's morality is mostly black and white; there's no mistaking your white hats from your black hats, and they carry on the tradition of the family of criminals that seek revenge on the Sheriff that stands as the only law in town. Raylen Given's justice, from his perspective, is just as clear cut; he'll never shot a man in cold blood, but he has no problem out-drawing any sonbitch that draws on him first, and will sleep just as soundly at night.
That's not to say that show is entirely clear cut, black and white though; which is were the modernization of the Western paradigm comes in. In our modern, gray shaded world, there's no room for a man whose morality is so clearly defined as good VS bad; there are consequences for even a so called 'justified' shooting, and it's also unclear as to just HOW justified Raylen was.
Raylan Given's is a complex and textured character. Calm and collected on the surface, superficially he comes across as a man of unwavering moral fiber, and a clear and concise code of conduct, who follows the letter of the law. But underneath that upright exterior is a boiling cauldron of repressed rage. As his past is slowly revealed, you begin to realize that his motivations in becoming a US Marshall are probably not entirely pure, but rather borne out of spite and petty hatred for his career criminal of a Father, and his apparent disdain for his own perceived destiny to follow in those footsteps.
Timothy Olephant is quite masterful at playing this kind of character; Raylan Given's could almost be considered a descendant of Seth Bullock, his breakthrough character from DEADWOOD (still my favorite TV show of all time, even after FIVE viewings). His instincts are fantastic, and he manages to be both charming and frightening on cue. Raylan Given's is a conflicted and sometimes violent man, who often loses patience with the very system he professes to believe in, often taking the Law into his own hands, bypassing the proper channels to threaten, bully, and beat anyone that crosses him or his, while struggling against the Authority that he serves. His judgment, while often logical and concise, is fallible, and easily compromised by his emotions.
Despite all his various failings, though, Marshall Given's is not an unsympathetic or unlikable character. He's charming, quick witted, and funny (I enjoy those Southern expressions, like a retard farting in a bathtub, I do!). He has an utter disdain for any sort of racial or religious intolerance, or any other kind of general ignorance, and is often frustrated by the ignorance of the people in his hometown, but at the same time, sympathetic, as he knows how easy it is to be trapped by that same blissful ignorance in a small town.
JUSTIFIED isn't the greatest thing to ever be on TV, but it far better than most of the crap that gets on the air, and, really, it's mostly just a vehicle for a good actor and rising star to do what he does best. You're really just watching the show to watch Timothy Olephant be a Southern Bad-Ass, because he's so damned GOOD at it, and, frankly, that's all you can really ask for.
JUSTIFIED is smart, well produced, entertainment, starring one of my favorite actors, doing what he does best; keeping me interested and entertained.