Monday, January 26, 2015

TV's 'Justified' is wry comedy of manners in Kentucky coal region
January 26, 2015
    •   The showdown is coming for the antihero characters played by Timothy Olyphant, left, and Walter Goggins in the last season of FX's "Justified." PRASHANT GUPTA/FX
      “Justified” returned to FX Tuesday night for a final season in the hamlets and hollers of southeastern Kentucky. It’s a show about guns, for one thing, and it’s a safe bet that this season’s 13 episodes will build toward several OK Corral-style shootouts, and that these will be tense, compact and well-choreographed.
      But it’s also a show about families, how they can be broken up or bound together by hard times and hard places, and how people try to build new ones from the materials at hand – wary lovers, weary colleagues, deceitful friends, honorable enemies. The writers’ main job in Season 6 will be to provide a final reckoning for the show’s hill-country Cain and Abel, the deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens and the rapacious local crime boss Boyd Crowder. Will one slay the other? A particularly nice thing about “Justified” is that you could see it going either way.
      That makes the show sound heavier than it is. Originally derived from the crime fiction of Elmore Leonard, and with Leonard credited as an executive producer until his death in 2013, “Justified” has always been known for the wry humor it brings to its Southern Gothic stories and settings. The humor, snappy pace and droll dialogue, and a wide gallery of comic knaves and miscreants have always provided pleasure, even when the show lays on the Appalachian atmosphere a little too thickly.
      Less brutal and over the top than “Banshee,” another rural thriller, and less formulaic and laconic than “Longmire,” another gun-happy neo-Western, “Justified” has been true to its Elmore Leonard roots – the mysteries and vendettas in each season are complicated and circular, involving multiple clans and criminal syndicates, and they’re really just a framing device for a comedy of morals and manners in a mostly unmannered milieu.
      At the center of it are Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins), the former coal-miner buddies and local (anti) heroes who –with their snake-hipped, runway-model slouches, their artisanally messy hair and their highly tailored wardrobes – are the unlikeliest pair of beatnik fashion plates ever to wrestle for the soul of a poor, crime-ridden county.
      Goggins has the secondary role, but he’s the show’s live wire, giving Boyd the singular intensity — guarded and wide-eyed at the same time – that he brought to the dirty cop Shane Vendrell in “The Shield.” It’s no small task making Boyd credible –he’s a fantasy figure, a cracker savant and magic hillbilly who quotes Jefferson and Keynes – but Goggins continually manages to put across his mock-poetic, Dixie-Elizabethan dialogue.
    • Olyphant is the star, and at first he seemed small and a little uninspiring as Raylan, the shoot-first, anti-authoritarian sex symbol descended from both Gary Cooper and James Dean. But what makes him right for the part is his ability to combine the gun-toting swagger with a sharp, quiet, sad-eyed humor. Much of the fun of the show through the seasons has been in the office humor among Raylan and his surrogate family at the Marshals Service.

      There is a looming confrontation between Raylan and Boyd, and one character at the start of Season 6 notes that one or the other is going to have to die. It’s a dilemma. Raylan is the champion, the defender of law and order, and the wisecracking, disarming good guy, but Boyd is the more compelling character, the one who stayed and tried to build something — in some ways, he’s the show’s real hero.

      You suspect that the producers will find another way out. It’s notable that through five seasons, “Justified” has killed off several casts’ worth of colorful, endearing supporting players but has kept its core intact, not disposing of any central characters to jolt the ratings or provide a cliffhanger. Here’s hoping its aim stays true to the end.

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