Following up the first season of Gossip Girl with the first season of Justified is a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. It’s a looooong drop from the towering spires of decadent Manhattan to the woodland meth labs of ole Kentucky. For the viewer as much as protagonist Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a deputy marshal stuck in his ways somewhere right after the Civil War. Givens is “exiled” to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky after shooting a dude in Miami. I was immediately endeared to this soft-spoken southern gentleman, seeing as how the reason he shot the guy was basically that he’d shoot him if he didn’t leave town. Towns were not left, guys were shot. For the observant among you, the guy in question is character actor Peter Greene, whom you may remember as baddie Dorian from Jim Carrey’s early hit The Mask. 2010 Dorian looks like he has cancer, aids and drank from the wrong Grail all at the same time.
Givens isn’t happy to be transferred to Harlan. His grifter pappy Arlo, his childhood sweetheart Ava, and a surprisingly florishing drug business all contribute to Raylan’s gentlemanly headache. But most of all, Raylan has his hands full with his former best friend Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
Goggins is the show’s ace in the hole. Raylan and Boyd are pretty much on the entirely different ends of the spectrum. Think of “the South” as an idea, a collection of stereotypes you’ve acquired throughout your years/decades of pop culture consumption. Now try to put all the good things in one column, and all the bad ones in another. Chances are the former will be a pretty good description of Raylan, while the latter fits Boyd to a (swas)tee(ka). They’re like Batman and the Joker, if the Joker were a little stupider, and Batman a lot more likeable.
Unfortunately, Boyd gets shot at the end of the pilot and spends most of the remainder of the season in hospital/prison. This pretty much condemns the first half to a “crime of the week” format that unfortunately doesn’t really do the show justice. It is, of course, purely in the realm of comic book fantasy (Raylan is under investigation for shooting a guy, but then just merrily shoots at least one other guy per episode) but the show works best when it’s dealing with themes of friendship, loyalty and betrayal. Hell, Raylan doesn’t kill Boyd in the first episode because they “once worked the mines together. Hell down there.”
There’s an easy, affable charm to Justified, carried mostly on the shoulders of Olyphant and Goggins. It’s really astonishing coming from backstabbing BFFs Serena and Blair to the constantly-giving-each-other-another-shot enemies that Raylan and Boyd are. Is this the difference between a boys’ show and a girls’ show? I haven’t seen enough gender-specific shows to be able to tell. I just know that come February 2011, I’ll be itching to find out what kinda shit Raylan and Boyd have gotten themselves into. I hope that by then the show has gotten a little “bigger”, and escaped its TV feel. I mean hell, I’ll have seen one hell of a western by then.