It was about two years ago that I discovered Justified. I’d read somewhere that ‘Fire in the Hole’, an excellent short story from legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard, had been filmed and that to boot it had been adapted by Graham Yost, a writer who, many moons ago, had improved my dull and drenched Lancashire youth by penning not only ‘Speed’, but ‘Broken Arrow’. Now, I know that in retrospect both of those films are, in many ways, utterly unwatchable, but I’m a man, I can’t help it, I like guns and explosions and cops who quip.
Besides, to top it all off I’d just finished the final season of The Shield so there was a sizeable hole in my life for a show about law men doing the right thing the wrong way. It was one of those perfect storm situations.
I watched the whole thing in a flurry. From the opening seated shoot out that ends with a bullet in the belly and a transfer home to a murky rednecked Kentucky full of ghosts, shitty drugs and senseless murder, I believed in Timothy Olyphant’s cast iron US Marshall Raylan Givens. His is a life that harks back to the Old Wild West, where men never backed down and relied on their wits as much as their balls. Raylan lives in a vividly drawn world and makes for a compelling and exciting lead who is as flawed as he is suave. It feels as if this is a real man we are watching, a real hero too.
Justified is not a one man show, like all the best programmes. Around the central cowboy floats an ensemble of rounded characters who spit one-liners as quickly as they draw guns, rarely pulling their punches. Elmore Leonard did not acquire his reputation for nothing, and as in those other products of his brain, the Jackie Browns, the Out of Sights, the people and the plots are sexy, violent and funny. It is not a hard show to enjoy and it is not hard to be repelled by what you see, make no mistake, the bad things that happen are all too believable, which makes them all the better to watch – I don’t know what Oxycontin is exactly, and I’ve never met a weed-growing, local store-owning grandma who’ll murder you with poisonous moonshine and then cook supper for your daughter, but now I know they exist and now I want to see more.
Things are different when it comes to the Good Old Boy’s in the world of Justified, that much is clear. If you haven’t already, you should probably leave the big cities with their glossy unreality and tune in as you take a turn through the dirty South, you’ll find it an affirmingly fresh experience.