E: Tuesday night, a new sheriff strolled into town. No, not my town. And not actually a sheriff. But still, that’s what it’s like. There’s a brand new Western on FX, set in Kentucky (now that’s unusual), about a U.S. Marshall who who’s a real throwback to the wild west. It’s called Justified. It’s based on Elmore Leonard short stories (I would never have guessed him for a Western writer, but there’s not so very much difference between that and crime, I suppose) and has the critics singing halleluiahs. I might not be raising my hands to the heavens, but I can appreciate a well made, exciting show when I see one. This is one.
Our flawed hero is one Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, sent back home to Kentucky in a bit of disgrace after he shot a gun runner in a Miami restaurant for – get this – not following his orders to leave town in 24 hours. Shot him three times in the chest. “I was justified,” he says shortly, “he drew first.” But by the end of the hour, when he’s dragged his ex-wife out of bed with her new husband because he needs someone to talk to, he’s wondering how justified he really has been. Does he simply like to shoot people? Was he just acting out his rage at his smuggler dad? The drug runner was a bad, bad man – but did Raylan like going up against him? Was he hoping that the other man would draw first, so he’d have an excuse?
I used to really hate Westerns (excepting High Noon), but of course I eventually came to appreciate the Western’s kinship to genres I do love. It’s hard to think of this sort of “who drew first” issue with out recalling Han Solo’s famous fight with Greedo at the cantina. Or at least, if you’re a geek it’s hard. And that’s not even getting near Captain Kirk. I still don’t love them in general, but I’m marginally less distressed by the shoot ’em style than I used to be. Or at least, I try not to discount the story behind the shooting. Is Raylan Givens (as played by Timothy Olyphant) a Han Solo? An old school mate of his certainly thinks so. And it’s clear from the way she describes the food she’s planning on cooking for him that she’s aiming to use his stomach as a direct route to another portion of his anatomy. Of course, since he’s stopped by her house because she just killed her wife-beating husband, and is about to be set upon by his neo-Nazi bank robbing domestic terrorist brother, well, the southern home cooking will have to wait. And that other thing, too.
We get to know the bank robbing Neo-Nazi, Boyd Crowder quite a bit; not only is he going after his former sister-in-law to fulfill his Old Testament duty of getting her with child (yep, that’s right) but he’s an old mining buddy of Raylan’s. He’s played with manic intensity by Walter Goggins, a stand out from FX’s flag ship drama series, The Shield. Olyphant might be best known for his roles either in Damages (another lauded FX drama) and HBO’s critically beloved Western Deadwood. Both men seems right at home, although Goggins gets to chew quite a bit more scenery.
I think the series might have hit me a little better if the first woman we meet, Ava Crowder, wasn’t such a preposterous stereotype. She’s a vixen, a sassy southern woman, a stereotype on steroids. I admit it; I have a tough time with movies and plays and books and tv shows that have no women I can relate to in them. It’s not always a deal-breaker, but some of these overly macho offerings just shut me right out. Or maybe that’s the real problem; often womanless fiction focuses on men that I don’t understand, either. (Glengarry Glen Ross is a prime example.) Add to that the Western thing, and the whole “ain’t Southern people so crazy and colorful?” thing, and you have a big old wall between me and this show.
All in all, it doesn’t grip me the way Leonard offering like L.A. Confidential and Out of Sight did (or even Karen Sisco, the brilliant but canceled tv show) do, but it entertained me. It was certainly exciting, and the characters were vivid. And there were a lot of good issues about heroism, and the difference between that and villainy, which I appreciated. Will I record it to watch after I’ve seen its time slot competitor (my favorite show) The Good Wife? Eh. I dunno. Just not my thing, I think. I’d absolutely recommend it to those who like Westerns, or shoot ’em up cop dramas, though. There just might be something you’ll like hiding out on FX.