The final ever episode of underrated 21st-century western Justified airs tonight in the US. Hannah Dunleavy’s here to justify her love.
It’s not easy being a Justified fan. Much like Breaking Bad, which coincidentally (or is it?) featured the drugs trade, it was easy enough to get started. But then the dealer, in this case FiveUSA, pulled the supply when it discovered Justified wasn’t meeting its consistently low bar for drama. So, for the last two series, UK viewers have had to find their fix where they can.
Oh, but it was worth it, as the tale of behatted US Marshall Raylan Givens and his adventures in the deep, dark, crime-ridden hills of Eastern Kentucky turned out to be one of the best non- AMC or HBO dramas of recent years. Here’s why.
Under the influence
The series is based on a short story by superlative crime writer Elmore Leonard, so it’s dripping in memorable criminals and glorious dialogue. Starting out as a standard procedural, by the second season the show had sensibly ditched this format and gone for the 13-episode arc of the heavy-hitting cable programmes.
It’s clearly influenced by Deadwood, with which it shares about a dozen cast members, including its lead (Timothy Olyphant). It’s also borrowed ideas from The Sopranos, from the terrific 1970s documentary Harlan Country USA, from all manner of Westerns and almost every Coen Brothers film ever made. All of which adds up to a whopping great pile of yes please.
From both sides now
Another thing Justified shares with Breaking Bad is that one of its stars was initially slated to die early. But, like Aaron Paul, Walton Goggins turned in such a terrific performance that the producers couldn’t bear to let him go, meaning Boyd Crowder was bumped up to second lead character. It was also a smart move as it enabled the audience to see the story from point of view of the law enforcers and the criminals and, bearing in mind some of the questionable tactics of the lead lawman, ask what the law means anyway.
Crowder is a childhood friend and sometime ally of Givens, and Goggins is simply awesome in the role, playing one of the most intelligent, charismatic and verbose bad guys TV’s yet given us. More importantly he and Olyphant have terrific chemistry and any scene with them both in it is a complete gem.
“Hands up, this is a robbery.” “Well shit, son, I can see that.”
A series set in a depressed backwater where people used to eke a living out digging coal and now survive by ripping off their neighbours doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, right? WRONG. Yes, any TV drama worth its salt has learned to bring the funny, but Justified goes above and beyond, being consistently more amusing than most sitcoms.
Laconic Marshall Tim (Jacob Pitts), deadpan Chief Deputy Art (Nick Searcy) and Winnebago-dwelling women’s tennis fanatic and sometime psychopath Wynne Duffy (Jere Burns) are always hilarious, and the laugh quota was upped further with the introduction of Bob (standup comedian Patton Oswalt), a constable with a charming man-crush on Givens – and frankly, who can blame him.
But the real diamond in the rough is Dewey Crowe, a hapless henchman, who is as uproarious as he is stupid. All credit to the writers and actor Damon Herriman, who is actually Australian, for wrenching every inch of humour and pathos from what could so easily have been a one-note character.
Because females are strong as hell tough as old boots
Women in crime dramas are often portrayed as innocents, ignorant of what’s going on around them or victims-in-waiting to be threatened as and when the plot demands. So when Justified opened with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) having enough of her abusive husband and putting a bullet through him, it was clear this series was going to go a different way.
There’s Raylan’s Aunt Helen (Linda Gehringer), who he credits with getting him to adulthood, arse-kicking Marshall Rachel (Erica Tazel), teenage pot entrepreneur Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever) and Queenpin-in-exile Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen). One thing binds all these women: you underestimate them at your peril.
Atop this pile of hard as nails gals is Mags Bennett, the folksy head of a crime family, who proves that scary doesn’t have to come with a set of balls. It’s rare for any ‘baddie’ to be written and portrayed with so much depth and the role won Margo Martindale a well-deserved Emmy and a career bump in her late 50s.
Age before beauty (no offence, guys)
If Justified is doing its bit for actresses over 40, it’s an absolute goldmine for middle-aged character actors. As well as plundering Deadwood for the likes of Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Brent Sexton, Ray McKinnon and Pruitt Vince Taylor, it’s had about a half a dozen Band of Brothers alumni on board, including Frank John Hughes and Neal McDonough.
Add to that pile of wonder Ron Eldard, Jeremy Davies, Sam Elliott, Scott Wilson, Mykelti Williamson, MC Gainey and Stephen fucking Root (wandering around in a pair of Speedos) and it starts to look like the one of the most solid and enjoyable casts yet assembled.
If you don’t already, best you start watching now.1883 Views
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.