Sunday, 26 December 2010

NWI Awards: Best Episodes Of 2010 - Justified: Long In The Tooth

I'm gonna take a stand.

Justified is a curious, if undoubtedly successful show. Blending the grand drama and adult content of a Breaking Bad with the procedural elements of a NCIS, I think more worked about it then didn't, particularly when it took serialization to heart toward the end of its season. But the episode that blew my mind more then any other was not only a stand alone, but narratively the most disposable episode. Nothing much is done with the lead character or the larger story. It doesn't even do much to expand on the world.

But in a way it did something else. It showed the potential of stand alone episodes within the modern TV dramatic landscape, where the only story worth telling is worth telling over 5 years. And to be clear, I love these shows. They are my lifeblood, but Long In The Tooth was such an entertaining, amusing and affecting hour of television that it does make one doubt ones staunchly serialized principles. A large part of that is the truly excellent performance at its centre by guest star Alan Ruck, who seems destined to be remembered as Cameron from Ferris Bueller forever. Its a character he played in some form for the rest of his career, until he became one of those faces you'd see often on TV playing the same kind of ineffectual role, regardless of whether they're talented or not. And Ruck, well he was always that acerbic, kind of spineless guy. But as Roland 'Rollie' Pike, dirty accountant/dentist, he is pretty much a revelation, discovering a not before seen toughness, but not losing that everyman charm. And when an actor does something you've never seen them do this fucking well, it makes you take notice.

Justified works best when its episodes protagonists are not those who don't traditionally belong in an Elmore Leonard universe, and Pike works wonderfully because he's both competent and in over his head, badass and vulnerable. Living his dream of being a dentist after stealing mob money, Rollie's cover is blown when he unloads on a particularly obnoxious customer, and the Elmore ensues. Combined with a sweet relationship he has with receptionist Mindy, well played by Michele Nordin, its a character story started and finished in 42 minutes, and succeeded in that in a way that no other show quite managed this year. It even throws in a couple of moments of Timothy Olyphant being a badass for good measure. Because after all, if you're not gonna use it then throw it away.

The problem with non-serialized shows is that quality doesn't stick, and a galling inconsistency is inevitable. It almost can't be avoided. And Justified suffered a little from that. But if you can get an hour of superlative television as good as Long In The Tooth, then its almost worth the trade. Also if you could re-invent an over the hill actor, that would be great too.

Rating: 8/10

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