Blessed with Elmore Leonard’s ringing endorsement, this rousing FX series returns for Season 2.
Elmore Leonard has never been shy about letting people know what Hollywood has done to his books. But in the case of Justified, the FX series based on his work, he believes that writer/executive producer Graham Yost and his staff have not only nailed the characters, tone and nuances but also gone beyond his wildest hopes.
Just before Yost and the Justified cast met with the Television Critics Association in January to discuss the upcoming season, a note was read from Leonard: “I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts about Justified. I think it’s terrific. Last season amazed me. I sat on the couch on Tuesday nights thinking it’s better than I could have written it. Starting off, Graham Yost’s pilot script faithfully adapted my novella, Fire in the Hole, but then, for the series, his writers went further to incorporate elements from my two Raylan novels Pronto and Riding the Rap. ... But it didn’t stop with my Raylan novels. Graham’s writing staff must have read all of my books to get the sound and attitude of my writing. I could hear it in every episode. Sometimes I thought, ‘Did I write that?’ ”
If a better endorsement exists, it hasn’t been released to the public.
Perhaps the note-perfect swagger of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who is quick on the trigger and light on the options for criminals, hit a note with viewers. There could also have been some echoes of Olyphant’s wonderful portrayal of Seth Bullock in HBO’s Deadwood. The man was born to be in a Western and wear a badge — he looks absolutely iconic in a cowboy hat. Olyphant owns one the best squint-eyed stares in all of acting. Give him a gun, and you just know he’s got an itchy trigger finger.
As Givens, a Kentucky native sent back (as punishment) from the Miami office to Lexington after he shoots a cartel member at a restaurant (it was, as Givens is wont to say, “justified”), Olyphant is the poster boy of the series. But his intensity is matched by Walton Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder, Givens’ boyhood friend-turned-criminal. It’s possible that Season 1 would have been riveting without Goggins, the former Shield star who was supposed to die in the pilot. But the writers saw the chemistry the actors had and the magnetic and crazed gravitas Goggins brought to the part and couldn’t turn their backs on what is likely to become a long-running friendship/feud between Raylan and Boyd.
That pairing led Justified to move slower in developing its other cast members, but Season 2 looks to be taking care of that.
This season, Yost has upped the ante by bringing in Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett, the matriarch of a Harlan County clan with a history of battling Givens’ family. The producers wanted to get into what they called “the feud culture” of Kentucky and explore the notion of second chances (because a number of characters will get but not necessarily embrace that option).
The critically acclaimed series did well enough in the ratings to get an early Season 2 renewal and is likely to bolster its numbers this year (many cable series do better in their second seasons because word-of-mouth drives DVD rentals, etc., and hooks more people). The series, which had a string of stand-alone episodes before becoming more serialized, gets the balance a little better in Season 2 (though there are still some stand-alones to welcome newbies).
But all anyone really needs to know is that Raylan still has a gun, Boyd is still in town, and Mags Bennett ain’t as sweet as she looks. Kentucky looks to be one volatile place this season.
Airdate 10 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 9 (FX)