Sunday, March 14, 2010

Television Reviews: 'Justified'

A Lawman, Polite and Ready to Shoot

The New York Times
March 14, 2010

Prashant Gupta/FX; Prashant Gupta/FX; Jeffrey Neira/FX

Scenes from “Justified”: From left, Timothy Olyphant as a deputy United States marshal at the center of this new series; Joelle Carter; and Erica Tazel.
More Photos >

THERE are a few ways to discern that Raylan Givens, the character at the center of the FX series “Justified” is an Elmore Leonard creation. Although he is a deputy United States marshal in a very contemporary milieu, he wears a big old cowboy hat, and his pistol, which he carries in a side holster, comes out only when he gets down to business. Regardless of the circumstance, he doesn’t spend a lot of time waving it around, but when it does reveal itself in a flash, the bodies tend to fall around him. Oh, and one other thing: As played by Timothy Olyphant, the steely gaze of a lawman with mortal tendencies is replaced with a courtly manner and a twinkle of mirth in his eye. In fact just about everybody in “Justified” displays very good manners while doing some very ill-mannered things.

The series, which will have its premiere on FX on Tuesday, grew out of an Elmore Leonard short story, “Fire in the Hole” and situates Givens in Kentucky, where he grew up and vowed never to return.

“Justified” is hardly the first attempt to render the dialogue of Mr. Leonard, the author of dozens of novels over the last half-century, suitable for the small screen. But while some of the films made from his novels — “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty” and “Jackie Brown” — have found critical and commercial success, the medium of television has not always been so kind to the Leonard oeuvre. Network efforts like “Karen Cisco’ and “Maximum Bob” tanked, in part because Mr. Leonard’s characters tend to do and say things that don’t fly with network standards. On FX, thanks to basic cable’s less restrictive policies, the people in “Justified” cuss and sleep around, the former stripper really does have a heart of gold, and the neo-Nazi is charming and loquacious.

Part of the reason “Justified” is able to skate away from the usual tics of television is that the series doesn’t take place in some gritty version of New York, or explore the throbbing night scene of Miami or the dark side of Los Angeles. The setting in Kentucky, where the lawman and the suspect might have once mined coal together, democratizes the landscape on both sides of the law.

Mr. Leonard, 84, won a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award last year for a literary career that has included “52 Pickup,” Freaky Deaky” and “Be Cool.” He’s never been shy about speaking up when he thought his work was mangled, but he’s clearly happy with “Justified.”

“I don’t write for laughs, but I have fun writing, and I think the people doing ‘Justified’ are doing the same thing,” he said. “There is a freedom from the kinds of formulas that networks usually use, and the characters are complicated. They aren’t just one thing.”

Raylan Givens, like most of Mr. Leonard’s characters, contain multitudes, good and ill, sweet and sour, criminal and not. He is more than happy to share a bit of moonshine with a boyhood friend turned suspect before taking him out. Mr. Olyphant played a reluctant sheriff in “Deadwood,” but in “Justified” he relishes the job, especially the part about dispatching someone after giving him fair warning. There are notes of laconic characters played by Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones in his performance, although he’s a little more fun to be around.

“He is very laid back and takes his time, but when he says something, he means it,” Mr. Leonard said. “He says, ‘If you take another step, I will shoot you,’ and then he takes another step and Givens does.”

Graham Yost, an executive producer of “Justitifed,” handed out W.W.E.D. — What Would Elmore Do? — bracelets to his crew of writers, and the verisimilitude that they aim for in this modern-day western is about Mr. Leonard’s world.

“It’s big and small things,” Mr. Yost said. “Elmore’s characters drink like crazy, and so do ours. Elmore said he had never written a bad guy he didn’t like, and we try to stay true to that.”

“Elmore has been out to the writer’s room, and it was great for all of us,” he added. “You have to remember to never forget the sense of humor, to create people that are interesting and dynamic, and to be true to what is going to happen.” (Mr. Leonard is an executive producer of the series and showed up earlier this year at the Television Critics Association media tour to promote it.)

Mr. Olyphant is not surprised to be finding himself wearing a badge again, but says he thinks this one is pinned on a pretty interesting character, one who’s back in his hometown after a bloody confrontation with a fugitive in Miami made the suits there nervous.

“Raylan is a guy who can’t walk through someone’s door without permission but is more than willing to kill once he does,” he said. “I am constantly going through the books to make sure we are hitting all those notes. My experience with reading Elmore is that I can’t go into the library and open any of his books to a random page and not find something that just cracks me up.”

There are shadows that overhang Mr. Olyphant’s character, including a father who has done more than a few bids in prison, a wife who walked away from him for another guy, both of whom who are now back in his life since his return to Kentucky. And there is always a suggestion that under a deadly calm veneer lies a real need to see that blood is extracted for various sins. As his ex-wife says at the end of the pilot, “You’re the angriest man I have ever met,” a trait shared by his character in “Deadwood,” David Milch’s HBO western.

For FX “Justified” features another in a series of conflicted heroes, or sometimes, antiheroes. With “Damages,” Rescue Me,” “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” FX has come up with a menu of characters we root both for and against, as dramatic circumstance requires.

Zack Van Amburg, co-president for programming with Jamie Erlicht at Sony Pictures Television, which also produces “Rescue Me,” said “Justified” was an attempt to take the “anti” out of hero and still render a lead character that has texture.

“When I read ‘Fire in the Hole,’ it was the most captivating story I had read in a long time,” he said. “With this show it begins with Elmore. As Graham said when we got started, we are trying to capture not just a story, but life, through an Elmore Leonard prism.”

Excerpt: 'Justified'
The FX Series Begins on March 16

'Justified' Stays True to Character

Author Leonard's words are gospel to creator/producer of FX drama

March 14, 2009

Graham Yost wears his admiration for novelist Elmore Leonard on his sleeve -- or very close to it.

The creator and executive producer of the new FX series "Justified," which is based on a Leonard character, gave his writing staff "WWED" bracelets early on as a playful reminder to ask themselves "what would Elmore do?"

"I'm wearing mine right now," says Yost during a phone interview from Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 08: Actress Natalie Zea, actor Timothy Olyphant and actor Walton Goggins arrive at the premiere of FX Networks & Sony Pictures Television's 'Justified' at the Director's Guild Theater on March 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

He also shares the tale of the soda-can trophy. After Leonard visited the show's writers a few months ago, they kept his Diet 7Up can as a souvenir. The cleaning staff threw the original can away, but writer Fred Golan got another one, emptied it and fastened it to a plate to make a trophy.

"We call it the Elmore," says Yost. "That goes every day, whenever we think of it, to the person who comes up with the coolest pitch in the room ... the most Elmore-ish pitch."

Debuting Tuesday night on FX, "Justified" stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a character who appears in Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole" (the show's pilot is based on it) and a few of his novels.

Givens is a deputy U.S. marshal who could be described as a modern version of a Wild West lawman, right down to his cowboy hat. In the first episode, he's transferred to the region of Kentucky where he grew up, a reassignment that puts him in touch with people from his past, including his ex-wife (Natalie Zea of "Hung") and a former coal-mining friend gone bad (vividly played by Walton Goggins of "The Shield").

The creative goal for the show is to stay true to Leonard's style and present what Yost describes as perhaps the coolest character on TV.

So far, one of the biggest fans of "Justified" is the acclaimed novelist from metro Detroit who inspired the series and who is an executive producer.

"This is the first time I've been excited about anything that is a spinoff from a book for TV," says Leonard, 84, speaking by phone from his Bloomfield Village home.

Although many of Leonard's novels have become well-regarded movies like "Out of Sight" and "Get Shorty," adaptations for television like the short-lived "Karen Sisco" haven't had the same success.

Leonard believes this show is "doing a great job." He's so pleased with what he's seen of "Justified" that he plans to write more about Raylan Givens.

"I'm writing a narrative of about 50 pages which I'm going to give them to use if they want, or however they want, because I don't want to interfere with the plots that they have going," he says.

Yost says he started reading Leonard many years ago with "La Brava" and was captivated by his work's sense of humor and humanity.

"I just loved the way the dialogue flowed, that it was unexpected and yet felt very real. And that these characters really popped and yet there was not a lot of fuss," he says. "And then his violence and his action was very exciting, but came in an unexpected way. My most overused word in talking about Elmore and his writing is 'unexpected,' which has been a big challenge for us in the show."

Yost describes FX as the ideal place for a series that seeks to evoke Leonard's sensibility. The cable network has had major triumphs with gritty dramas like "The Shield" and "Damages" and has pushed the envelope of quirkiness with series like "Rescue Me."

With "Justified," the grit is there in the hardscrabble setting and the no-nonsense attitude of Givens, a hero with issues.

"What I liked about him and the way Elmore presented him is that he's a law enforcement officer, but he's not a screamer and he's not a tough guy. He's very cool, calm and collected, and has a good sense of humor. And there's something Clint Eastwood about it without the sort of hyper-masculinity," says Yost.

Olyphant, who had a role on "Damages," is probably most familiar to TV viewers for his intense portrayal of ultra-serious sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO's "Deadwood."

Givens and Bullock are completely different characters, according to Yost, who quips, "We'll jokingly say that, well, we knew he would look good in a hat."

Leonard, who hit it off with Olyphant when they met, is impressed with the actor's performance. "I couldn't have cast that part any better. ... He sounds like my character, even to just a slight accent, not much, but there it is. And the way he moves and the way he talks, it's perfect."

While some FX shows like "Nip/Tuck" have an over-the-top feeling, there is a confident, restrained quality to "Justified."

"In Elmore's world, people don't really yell very much," says Yost. "There's a certain civility, even with the bad guys. They're all smart to a degree."

Yost says Leonard's desire to do another Raylan Givens story is "maybe the coolest news that we got all year in the writer's room."

For Leonard, it will be a chance to revisit a character that, as he told a Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena in January, got his name from a man he met about 20 years ago in Texas when he was giving a talk to a book distribution company.

"He said, 'Hi, I'm Raylan Givens.' And I said ... I'm going to use you. I have to use you," says Leonard, recalling the moment again. "That name is perfect. ... You don't just stumble on a name like that."

Leonard says he watches more TV as he gets older. Asked about some recent favorite shows, he mentions "The Shield" and HBO's "The Wire." His wife likes "CSI," he says, "and I tell her, but it's not true, that's not the way they work. They're not that important."

After decades of seeing his work adapted for big and small screens, Leonard is philosophical about the process.

"I'm all for it, because you get paid for it," he says. "That's the main thing. And when it's good, there's nothing better."

Contact JULIE HINDS: 313-222-6427 or

EXCLUSIVE: Timothy Olyphant Is Justified
March 12, 2010

The F/X network has made quite a name for it's self over the past decade as a cable network willing to air gritty and exciting dramatic television that pushes the envelope of what you can do on TV. With critically acclaimed and popular series like The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me and Damages, F/X has helped usher in a new era in primetime television and they are continuing the tradition with their new series, Justified, premiering March 16th. The series stars Timothy Olyphant (The Crazies) as US Marshal Raylan Givens, a hard-as-nails, cowboy-type officer based in Florida that administrates his own style of justice, which puts a target on his back with both criminals and his own bosses. As a result, he is forced to relocate and is reassigned to the department that covers his rural Kentucky hometown, which forces him to face demons that he left behind years ago. The show was created by Speed writer Graham Yost and is based on a character created by novelist Elmore Leonard (Jackie Brown). Besides Olyphant the show boasts a talented cast of actors that includes Walton Goggins from The Shield, Nick Searcy (Blood Done Sign My Name), Raymond J. Barry (Lost), Natalie Zea (Dirty, Sexy, Money), Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel and Page Kennedy who played U-Turn on Weeds. We recently had the opportunity to attend the premiere of Justified and talk with some of the cast and crew about the new series, it's old school feel and what fans can expect from the exciting new show.

While the show is based on a character created by Elmore Leonard it has already received comparisons to McCloud, the classic '70s detective show starring Dennis Weaver as a US Marshal who moves to New York City to administrate is own unique brand of justice. The show's creator Graham Yost spoke to us about the obvious similarities yet big differences between the two shows. "I'll tell you a story about that," said Yost. "It's based on an Elmore Leonard character that is in two books 'Riding The Rap,' and 'Pronto' and the short story 'Fire In The Hole.' That's what we based the pilot on was 'Fire In The Hole' because it takes Raylan from Miami back home to Kentucky. I was talking to Elmore Leonard after he saw the pilot and he said, 'You know, he doesn't have to wear the hat all the time. This isn't McCloud!' So no, it's not McCloud because McCloud was the cowboy going to the big city and this is a guy who just happens to wear a hat and is going back home to Kentucky." Yost continued to discuss the tone of the series. "The tone is really Elmore Leonard, that's what we try to hit each week. So it's a mix of comedy, its very dry humor, sudden threats of violence, unpredictable turns or that's our hope and there is a little bit of the western," he explained. "Especially sort of Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, you know the guy doesn't yell, he doesn't shout, well you'll see."

The show's star, Olyphant, discussed how he views the show. "It does seem kind of old school, it seems kind of fun," he said. "You know any time that you can get your hands on something that seems kind of old school and is contemporary at the same time ... well it's kind of fun to get your hands on that." Olyphant, who played Sheriff Bullock for three seasons on the popular but short-lived HBO series Deadwood, talked about the differences between his old character of Bullock and Raylan Givens. "Oh, this is a totally different deal. This show is funny, light and easier going. It's Elmore Leonard so it's a different beat, you know? A different tone completely," he explained. Actor Nick Searcy who plays Raylan's new boss in Kentucky explains his take on the show. "I think its kind of a one guy out on his own sort of having to make decisions and sometimes he pushes up against the side of the law, sometimes he goes over it. It's that kind of a show."

One of the "demons" that Raylan left behind when he moved away from Kentucky was his best friend, Boyd Crowder, who is now in charge of all criminal activity in Raylan's hometown. Crowder, the show's villain for the first arc is played by non other than critically acclaimed actor Walton Goggins who is best known for playing the tragically doomed Detective Shane Vendrell for seven seasons on the hit show The Shield and will be seen this summer fighting killer aliens in Predators. The actor began by explaining just what it is that he like about the show. "To me Justified is a hybrid of the Coen Brothers meets The Shield," he said. "You know it is a classic western with good people, bad people and a morally ambiguous 21st century twist. While Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant's character wears a white hat and me, Boyd Crowder wears a black hat, I think people are going to be surprised at how those two things merge," the actor concluded. Goggins originally singed on as a guest star because he was busy shooting Predators and was working on a pilot for AMC. With Predators wrapped and his AMC series on hold for the time being we asked the actor if he may return for more episodes now that his schedule is clear? "You know, believe it or not I'm not at liberty to say. You'll just have to tune in and see what happens," the actor said cryptically indicating that it was likely to happen.

We followed up by asking Yost if he intended to have different villains come and go throughout the show and if there were plans to bring Goggins back? "Walton's character Boyd died in the short story but we loved him so much we were like, no that bullet has to miss his heart because we need him back," Yost explained. "So we made that choice because we wanted to see more of him. Boyd and Raylan have a cool relationship that plays out over the first season." The writer went on to explained how they initially worked around Goggins busy schedule. "Well you know, he was off doing Predators in Hawaii but it just so happened that he was in jail anyways in the story so he would come back for a day, we would shoot him in jail and he would go back to Hawaii. So he was able to live on." However there will be no shortage of bad guys on the show for Olyphant's Marshal to go after. Page Kennedy will join the cast in the third episode and told us a little bit about the role he is playing. "I play a hit man named Curtis Melms and he should be bringing a lot of trouble to the game. He's kind of like a Southern, scary, quiet killer. Definitely intimidating."

However bad guys and old friends are not the only people that Raylan will have to deal with when he returns home, he has an ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend and a estranged Father that he will have to confront. Natalie Zea plays Raylan's ex-wife Winona Hawkins and the actress gave us a sneak peek at her character. "She is living in Kentucky. We both made vows to get out of Kentucky and we both did, separately and know we're both back," she explained. "I'm married to the realtor, the guy that was supposed to sell Raylan and my house together so you do the math. Now we're sort of stuck with each other in the same small town." Zea went on to explain the relationship between her character and Olyphant's. "She's very respectful of his presence and making sure that there is a certain distance but there is a draw that they both have towards each other that at times is difficult to deny." Joelle Carter plays another woman from Raylan's past and the actress gave us the low down on her character. "My character is named Ava Crowder and she's one of the girls left behind. Raylan comes back to Kentucky to work, work out his demons and I think I'm the past that he doesn't mind remembering." "We always were attracted to each other and flirtatious in the past," she continued. "There's a chemistry there that is still there when he comes back and she has kind of in a way freed herself so she goes for it and they have fun, you know? In a way they are really good for each other and in other ways really bad so it's a good conflict to have on the show." Raylan will also be dealing with his father when he returns home played by Raymond J. Barry. Here is what the actor had to say about playing Raylan's dad. "It's a great character. He sells drugs and he has post-traumatic stress so he's charming but violent," Barry said. "He has a very contentious relationship with Raylan and it's just a great character. He beats people up and then he charms them. He's got a crazy, funny relationship with his wife and there is a southern accent."

Rounding out the cast is Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts who play members of Raylan's new team. Tazel discussed her role. "I play Rachel Brooks who is a US Marshal and I work with Raylan, Timothy's character. My character is not the most levelheaded person in the world but she would never admit to that flaw. I think the addition of Raylan to the Lexington office definitely pulls a mirror up to Rachel where she has to look at herself and look at her weaknesses as a US Marshall." Actor Jacob Pitts filled us in on his role in the show. "I play Deputy Marshall Tim Gutterson who is a former Army Ranger, sniper and my Involvement so far this season is just to be a crack shot when they need one," the actor explained.

We asked Carter what it was like working opposite an actor as intense and accomplished as Olyphant. "Timothy is amazing and has really put a 100% of himself into the show. He is very dedicated to making it a great show." Searcy chimed in about working with the rest of the cast and crew on the show. "We have a great time, we really do. It's a talented bunch of people and the writing's good, it's so good. So everyday is a lot of fun. We get in there and really slug it out and we have the time to make sure everything is right and it's a lot of fun." Finally the actor finished by summing up his feelings about the show. "I think Justified is just a real high quality show in terms of the writing, the action and the quality of the actors. I think people will find them selves highly entertained by it. I really think it's a great show and I'm proud to be a part of it."

Justified premieres this Tuesday, March 16th on F/X.

New TV drama set in Kentucky but not shot here — yet

By Rich Copley
Lexington Herald-Leader
March 14, 2010

Graham Yost hopes that his new television drama set in Kentucky, Justified, will be successful enough that there will be a season two and that some of it can be shot in the commonwealth.

"It was my dream for all of us to go to Lexington and Harlan and walk around and talk to people," Yost says. "Then what happens is, 'That's great, but we have to have the first script written in three weeks.' So time just evaporates. And there's a budgetary thing. It's not cheap to travel.

"But our hope is that in success, that would be one of the first things we would do, just go on a big road trip to Kentucky."

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 08: Executive producer Graham Yost (L) and actress Joelle Carter attend the premiere of the television show 'Justified' at the Directors Guild of America on March 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

When local audiences watch Justified, which premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the FX cable network, they will certainly hear a lot of familiar names, including Tates Creek Road and Big Sandy Federal Penitentiary.

The show follows U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a character created by iconic author Elmore Leonard, as Givens is sent back to his old Kentucky home after he shoots a man in Miami under questionable circumstances. The pilot episode of Justified is based on Leonard's story Fire in the Hole, about Raylan facing down an old mining buddy who has turned to violent white supremacy.

There were previous Raylan Givens stories set in bigger, more exotic locales, but it was the Kentucky story that caught Yost's eye.

"Elmore had set it up that Raylan came from Harlan, Ky., and had this story where he said, wouldn't it be fun if Raylan went home?" Yost said. "That really appealed to us and FX, where it finally landed; just the notion of doing a series set somewhere other than Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Las Vegas. That's sort of been about it for current TV, and we thought it would give the show something special, something extra. It would be about a part of the country that doesn't get chronicled that much in television."

The promotions for the series have said, "Raylan Givens has a past he'd like to leave behind. Harlan, Kentucky, has a problem."

The pilot takes place in Harlan, although Raylan is based at the U.S. Marshals office in Lexington. The second episode runs around rural Kentucky as Raylan Givens tries to arrest a pair of escaped convicts from the Big Sandy prison.

"It will mostly be set in Lexington," Yost says of the show. "Toward the end of the season, we get back down to Harlan, and the last four episodes of the season are pretty much set in Harlan."

The producer is well aware that Harlan and Eastern Kentucky in general have had big problems with the region's portrayal in national media. A big part of avoiding that, he said, is having a story inspired by Leonard, who also is an executive producer of the series.

"He always treats his characters with respect," Yost says. "He told me he never wrote a character he didn't like, and if a character can't keep up, if they're not sharp enough to engage in dialogue with other interesting characters he's created, he kind of jettisons them along the way. We've tried to make sure our characters are as sharp and on the ball as Elmore's characters."

Yost says Raylan, played by Timothy Olyphant, is a classic Leonard character, along the lines of Get Shorty's Chili Palmer, played by John Travolta in the 1995 movie.

One scene in Justified's pilot where that really shows up is set in Harlan, when a bad guy has a rifle trained on Raylan and the marshal strides toward him, explaining that he pulls his gun only if he intends to shoot to kill. Raylan asks, "Think you can rack in a load before I put a hole through you?"

"His characters are smart and funny, but they're not jokesters," Yost says of Leonard, who also wrote Out of Sight, which established Kentucky native George Clooney as a film star. "They make wry observations of life, and they have an interesting way of saying things, and they go right at things. They don't beat around the bush."

Olyphant, specifically, had Leonard's stamp of approval.

"The joke around here is we cast him because we knew he could wear a hat after his time on Deadwood," Yost says of Olyphant, who has also starred in recent films The Perfect Getaway and The Crazies. "There's a twinkle to him, and he's really charming.

"There's always been this feeling he's a star waiting to pop, and we hope this will do it for him."

And maybe he'll come to Kentucky, too.

Justified's place names will be familiar to Kentuckians as the show begins, but most of the locations won't be. The show sent a crew to Kentucky to shoot some landscape shots for promotions and the main title sequence. But the show's 13-episode first season was shot mostly in California, and the pilot was filmed near Pittsburgh.

Yost, who visited Lexington once for an event at the Kentucky Horse Park, says he and the writers primarily got to know the area through books.

"And we used Google," he says sheepishly. "Tates Creek Road was frankly me looking at a map for a road between Lexington and Harlan.

"We're hoping to get down there or somewhere that looks a little bit more like there than here."

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