'Justified' Season 4: TV Review

A standout series reminds you how great it really is.

The new arc involves a religious group from the outside but sticks closer to stories about the town of Harlan.

Watching the first episode of FX's Justified, season four, this feeling washes over you: God, this is such a well-written show. After the second episode, it’s this feeling: Man, it’s easy to forget exactly how great this series is.

Both are true. And it’s probably a testament to how many truly top-tier dramas are out there that Justified can’t seem to get the awards respect it deserves for series, writing, the acting of Timothy Olyphant (as Raylan Givens), Walton Goggins (as Boyd Crowder) and others.

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In the first two episodes of season four, the only ones sent to critics, Justified returns with such a familiar resonance of greatness that you can’t help but feel a little sorry for maybe having it lower on your best-of list or wonder if the urgency used in stuffing copies into friends' hands was fast enough, etc. There’s an effortless to the show that allows some of us -- apologies to creator Graham Yost -- to maybe take it a tiny bit for granted.

Tuesday night’s premiere reiterates everything above and, more important, illuminates something very small but important: Because there won’t be an emphasis on major guest stars as antagonists like there was in previous seasons, the show looks to be settling into letting more dialogue flow between viewers’ favorite characters, instead of having to parse up those fantastic phrases between multiple characters.

Although the two episodes didn’t indicate that the last nagging flaw of the show -- deepening the roles of Rachel (Erica Tazel) and Tim (Jacob Pitts) -- had been substantially addressed, there’s an interesting comment from Art (Nick Searcy) about character flaws of each that might indicate future exploration. Oh, and Searcy tears the cover off the ball every time he’s allowed to hit. And in a few brief but sparkling scenes, Joelle Carter as Ava proves again how much magic she can work with a couple of paragraphs.

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There is an outsider who comes into Harlan -- a staple of the show, but it's unlikely to be those huge, bit-actor arcs that have guided previous season. Instead, the writers focus on the home team.

All of this bodes well, and who knows what’s around the corner because other staples – Wynn Duffy! – make appearances. And the dialogue remains as pin-prick sharp as usual, with that clever mix of directness and humor:

Art: “Raylan, on a scale from one to a shitload, how much do you need to tell me right now?”

Tim, reading the rap sheet of a particularly dangerous family and urging Art not to go on the raid with them: “Hell, their dog’s in the pound.”

Boyd: “But you can trust me.”

Wynn: “But I don’t trust the way you just said you can trust me.”

Only a small number of series have a sense of place as keen as Justified, and that same small number of series can count an abundance of pitch-perfect characters like Raylan and Boyd.

It’s such a welcome sight (and sound) to have them back again. I’m going to make a note not to take them (or the writing) for granted anymore.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine