The story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens marks the first time that Elmore Leonard’s work has worked on television. Thanks to cable network FX, the series has been allowed to depict the quirkiness, humor and unexpected bursts violence of Leonard’s work – as well as his crackling dialogue. The first season DVD includes some excellent bonus material that goes into detail about that was done, making it well worth investigating if you’re a fan of great crime fiction and TV.
The series opens with a forced showdown between Givens [Timothy Olyphant] and mob hitter Tommy Bucks [the always superb Peter Greene] – over Bucks’ lunch in a crowded Miami restaurant. Seen as a maverick who could be bad for the Marshals’ image in the Florida area, Givens is exiled to the Kentucky office under the auspices of Chief Deputy Art Mullen [Nick Searcy] – the last place he wants to be, and a blow softened only by the presence of longtime friend and mentor, Mullen.
Over the season – which begins with an explosive pilot that pits Givens against old friend and seeming white supremacist Boyd Crowder [Walton Goggins] – we come to learn the whys and wherefores of Givens’ departure from the area: an ex-wife, Winona [Natalie Zea, Dirty Sexy Money] and a criminal lifer of a father, Arlen [Raymond J. Barry] among them.
Like all of Leonard’s protagonists, Givens is a guy who has a few flaws. Winona says he’s ‘the angriest man I’ve ever known,’ and he gets into an intimate relationship with former cheerleader Ava [Joelle Carter], who is in the process of being investigated in regard to the death of her abusive husband – whose brother is the fiery [but not stupid] Boyd Crowder.
Justified is not, however, a mystery series – so Givens also has to track down fugitives [like Alan Ruck’s dentist, Roland Pike] and deal with a hostage situation in the Marshals’ office [!], as well as deal with Miami killers and Boyd’s crime boss daddy, Bo [Lost’s M.C. Gainey]. The ep about the hostage situation, Blowback, may be one of the best bottle episodes [shot primarily on a single set] ever made.
The series catches pretty much everything in just the right lights – Southern members of the cast even declare the characters’ accents to be authentic – and Leonard, himself, is impressed [see bonus materials]. The result is one of the best new shows of 2010 – and a promising situation for its return in February.
Features include: four Audio Commentaries [Pilot, Blowback, Hatless, Bulletville]; What Would Elmore Do? [the show’s writing philosophy]; The Story of Justified [from concept to series]; Justified: Meet The Characters; Shooting For Kentucky; The Marshals [what the U.S. Marshals are – and what they do]; Long Hard Times To Come [music video of the Gangstergrass series theme song]; Season Two: A Look Ahead.
Grade: Justified: The Complete First Season – A
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A