FX's new drama series REALLY wants you to take it seriously.
Justified is a series based on the work of Elmore Leonard (because, sadly, original ideas just don't happen on TV anymore). It is a drama that just begs to be described as gritty. It features blood, guns, and racism, all wrapped up in a style that is nineteenth century Western modified for the modern day.
The main character is US Marshal Raylan Givens. In addition to his barely believable name, Raylan touts many of the classic symbols of unquestionable badassery: an excellent hat, a ladykiller manner, a tightly controlled temper, some serious gunslinger skillage, daddy issues, and a distaste for shaving. In short, Raylan Givens is just this side of a walking cliche. His saving grace is the considerable talent of Timothy Olyphant. Given his past with Deadwood, perhaps donning a Stetson and speaking in drawl is not the best way to enter the leading man domain. But, again, his performance is sheer excellence and I am greatly looking forward to seeing him show off his range in Justified.
The main character is sure to be the best part of Justified. One element that can almost compete is the minimalistic style. The great agricultural outdoors is a magnificent, beautifully shot setting. Especially in contrast with the dark, seedy interiors shown so far, Justified is not slacking visually (although they could maybe ease up on the photoediting). And the sound editing is brilliant. There is more white noise than music in the background. Where instrumentation is utilized, it is effective, but the silence is what really gives Justified its considerable auditory chops.
That said, the pilot "Fire in the Hole" was certainly not perfect. The writers have chosen white trash white supremacists as the main antagonists for the show. Nothing against the truly creepifying performances of guest stars Wolton Goggins and Kevin Rankin, but tattooed neo-Nazis touting a Confederate flag are about the least controversial villains you can find. (Not to mention this choice reeks of being borrowed from Sons of Anarchy. FX, don't you have anything else up your sleeves?) They aren't even particularly good white supremacists. So far, the only people they've actually attacked are a white woman, marijuana dealing Jamaicans, and feds. The spiel from Boyd about Jews in the Bible was chilling to be sure, but words only go so far. Take all this and add the black female Marshal and you've got a serious lack of impressiveness.
Justified is lacking pretty greatly in the originality department. The main character is 2 parts Jack Bauer, 1 part Mal Reynolds. The set-up pulls heavily from 24, Sons of Anarchy, and Deadwood. This is something of a disappointment. But it may just be the show's saving grace. If nothing else, these are time-honored ratings-grabbers. I'll say what I will against Justified, but that certainly doesn't mean I won't be watching it.
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com.)