Tuesday, 14 September 2010

TV REVIEW: Justified

Dear Lord, before we eat this meal we ask forgiveness for our sins, especially Boyd- who blew up a church with a rocket launcher.

I watch a frightening amount of TV Shows, often even if I know in advance there is no way they can be good. Its this policy of forced open-mindedness that gets me into so much trouble at the movies. But I think deep down, however misguidedly, I must believe in giving everything its chance. Otherwise well, I'd just watch Arrested Development on a 50 year loop and die a happy man. But I never watch dramatic procedurals. Never. And I watch some truly despicable shit. I've seen one full season of Gossip Girl, the entirety of the OC, 6 or so seasons of Desperate Housewives ( That was good for about a year and a half I suppose), Every episode of Sci-Fi's Eureka, all of Reaper, every second of Accidentally On Purpose, all brain-melting 22 episodes of Mercy (google it. It sucked.) And perhaps the most embarrassingly, the fact that I've seen all of and will continue to see all of Stargate: Universe ( The world can never have enough Battlestar Galactica rip-offs I say.) But in my whole life, I've seen less then five episodes of CSI in all its incarnations, not a single second of Law And Order and a very small chunk of ER. I can make exceptions, say there's a particularly strong performance at its centre a la House, or its on a Cable network, so more adult material can be dealt with. But the core of it, no serialized story and a mystery or case of the week, where everything just hits the reset button at the end of the forty-five minutes to avoid all conceivable consequences, just leaves me with such a horrible image of disinterest I just can't be bothered. As a wise man once said, I'd rather be appalled then bored.

Justified, for its beginning at least, is pretty much this kind of show, only people can say fuck and people bleed when you shoot them. Unlike The Wire and The Shield, which both went to extreme lengths to subvert and avoid the spectre of procedural convention, Justified tries to instead re-associate them to a rawer, more violent climate. It took me a while to work up the energy to watch it though, putting many lesser shows first and only when I read somewhere that it became a more serialized show as it progressed did I get round to it. And I'm glad that I did, because while it is flawed and has its lows as well as its highs, there's a genuine sense of originality to its tone and atmosphere and more importantly, it succeeds so emphatically at being an entertaining show, presenting a classically western hero in Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens, the eternally cool, violent but just badass, and placing him in a time he doesn't belong, the present. No he doesn't have the complexity or the ambiguity of a Don Draper or a Walter White, but with Olyphant playing him the way he does, its just so wonderfully effortless and awesome to watch. Olyphant is in that weird place where he's a true A-lister on TV, with this and Deadwood now on his belt, yet a B-lister in the movies, stuck in films like Hitman and A Perfect Getaway. But he's sublime here, entailing all of the show's themes and strengths by just showing up.

Having said that, you could be headed for a House like situation where the only thing worth watching for is the lead, and even a great performance can only hold up a show for so long. But thankfully, Justified has enough going on to make it something in and of itself rather then just a vehicle in which Olyphant can be awesome. It plays like a post-modern western, which as a Firefly fan makes me very happy, and has in places some truly great writing. Better then I was expecting in places, to be honest. The serialized arc that takes center stage in the last six episodes say, was strong, but against my usual taste and judgment, my favorite hours of the first season were two self-contained ones, The fourth episode 'Long In The Tooth' was about as good as any episode of TV last year, featuring a terrific, wonderfully surprising performance from Alan Ruck aka Cameron from Ferris Bueller, whose performance in a rare dramatic role is so good that for one hour, it upstages Olyphant in his own show. I've always been a fan of Ruck, from Ferris Bueller down to his TV work in shows like Spin City, but I'd never seen any kind of indication that he was capable of this, but it was fucking awesome. Tooth, written by Mad Men veteran Chris Provenzano, was the moment I fell in love with this show and the idea of what it could grow to be. Similarly the ninth episode 'Hatless' presented a mature and interesting spin on the familiar 'my ex-wife is married to a spineless prick' arc I'd grown so bored of seeing. Its probably the most layered Olyphant gets in the course of the show, and features a great performance from William Ragsdale as the spineless prick in question and some great restrained psycho villiany from the very under-rated Jere Burns, who was so excellent on Breaking Bad last year.

Occasionally the arcing does get lost in the shuffle, although it does intensify say in the last three episodes. Given the self-contained nature of the show at its beginning though, there are weaker episodes to go with the strong ones, and only once it gives itself over to serialization does the inconsistency question truly go away. Largely thanks to Walton Goggins, the man who most will know as the southern hick serial killer from Predators, but you should really know from his awesome, almost unrivalled performance over seven years of The Shield, who starts of the show as the only cast member who can go toe to toe with Olyphant, but by its end, largely due to the character he is playing no doubt, he kind of becomes the more intriguing, darker presence. Playing a crazy/smart criminal who finds god after a near death experience, Goggins' Boyd Crowder transitions from cartoon villain to perhaps the most layered character on the show, and Goggins find some real heart in the character by the end. Goggins may never be able to get cast for any other reason then his hillbilly looks, but he's such a good actor you'd think someone would try it at least.

Its flaws though are not too dissimilar to Dexter, in which that the cast full of cops at Olyphant's back have too much feel of the no mark to them, and it would be kind to say they get lost in the shuffle. other character's such as Joelle Carter's Ava are comparatively given too much screen-time with what they can offer the show, I enjoyed Carter's character at first, but she stagnated into a kind of stubborn childishness that wasn't helped by the writing of her at all. And episodes like 'The Hammer and 'The Collection' mostly fall flat, and present the fact that the case of the weeks fallacy is not something the show could entirely exorcise itself from. But like I said, once the show moves into its final hours and it becomes more about rivaling family clans and violent genre melodrama, shit gets very Wyatt Earp and finds a way to land that ton of awesomely entertaining every week. Justified is far from a perfect show, and perhaps it is just a cop show with the ability to say fuck. But if how you do it is more important then what you're doing, then Justified can only be considered a success. A step away from realism back toward the escapist joy that the movies can bring, only for an adult audience. How can that be anything but a good thing?

Episodes To Watch:

Long In The Tooth - Hatless - Bulletville

Rating: 7/10

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