Let me pitch you a terrible idea for a show.
Modern Western, set in the South, with the fastest gun in the all these here parts as the steel-jawed lawman.
Oh, and we’re going to populate it with nobody you’ve heard of.
You won’t make it without a star?
Fine. I liked Deadwood. We’ll get Timothy Olyphant, who played a steel-jawed lawman Seth Bullock, to play the part.
Not enough? Ok, Lost’s Mr. Friendly and Doug E. Doug, but that’s all you get.
Except here’s the thing: the combination works. Justified is one of the best new shows on TV, second only to David Simon’s latest on HBO, Treme. Part of that is undoubtedly due to impressive scripts by Elmore Leonard, who both wrote the story on which the series is based and many of its scripts.
Most of that success comes from Timothy Olyphant, who has found seventeen different ways to slow burn as U.S. Marshall Raylen Givens. Raylen has been on what can most charitably be called as a bad run of luck, mostly of his own making. The series opens with him killing a murderer who had the temerity to ignore the 24 hours Raylen gives him to leave town. That trope, the lawman giving the man in the black hat a day to vamoose, isn’t just a knowing nod to the Western roots of the series. In fact, Justified seems to have as its first season goal to take down each of these cliches, while sometimes turning them on their head. Think you’ve seen all that the tense standoff between multiple outlaws and the sheriff before all of them slap leather might have to offer? Wait until you see what Justified does with the moment and its aftermath.
Were it not for the unhappy luck of premiering during the same year as the remarkable Treme, this would be the breakout hit of 2010. It’s a good day when I wake up to find a new episode on my DVR.