Monday, April 22, 2013

Couch Potato Chronicles: "Justified"

Television programming can be a fickle thing ... or maybe I'm a fickle viewer ... or both.  I've loved shows and hated shows, and sometimes they were the same shows.  (For those of you keeping track, I'm out of love with Doctor Who and Supernatural for now but hoping they get better writing.)  So what to do?  Look for something else to watch, of course, because sometimes the news is so terrible you just can't watch it anymore.  I'm not feeling too well anyway, so I'm basically passed out on the couch in front of the TV.

So!  There are actually a number of very watchable TV shows available streaming online via Netflix or Amazon Prime and such (and certainly available on physical media), so maybe I'll occasionally post a suggestion.  Right now I just want to talk about FX's Justified (2010-present), which I had heard good things about (it's been nominated for a basketful of awards and won some), but I had never made a point of sitting to see it for myself until now.  Here's what all the fuss is about, because it really is a good, often great, show.  Watch it from the start, though!

The premise?  In the premiere episode, maverick Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) has been, to his dismay, reassigned from his post in Miami to one in hardscrabble Kentucky coal country.  As Givens himself protests, "I grew up in Kentucky!  I don't want to go back there - !"  But go he must, and the result is a fascinating grand story about the ties that bind, the messiness of history (both personal and communal), and, yes, law and order.  It's a little harder, by the way, when you've grown up with the perps and when everybody knows everybody else.  

Besides, just how completely can you escape your own background and childhood?  How far can you make or remake or unmake yourself?  But never fear: there is plenty of action, great music, an unexpected streak of humor, and lots of personality in a cast that will draw you in.  In a solid lineup, the particular standouts are veteran character actor Nick Searcy (and real-life tweeter of bon mots) as Art Mullen, Givens's humorously no-nonsense superior officer, and Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, a charismatic local criminal with his own brand of creepily well-spoken magnetism.

Something else I find appealing about Justified is that it's not YET ANOTHER SHOW SET IN NEW YORK OR LOS ANGELES.  It at least acknowledges that, despite what you might think from hearing the endless twitterings of the bi-coastal elites, flyover country exists and that people live in it with subcultures, concerns, and communities of their own.  The show manages (mostly) to do this without making the characters into shallow caricatures and ignorant redneck stereotypes.  The best of them emerge as rounded personalities, and their flawed, conflicted humanity makes for some actual character-driven drama.  Better yet, this setup opens up the possibilities for a whole new world of storylines.

Besides, if I may say so, Marshal Givens' brand of unapologetic, energetic, self-confident masculinity is a breath of fresh air in a world where neurotic sissiness seems to be popular.  In a lot of ways, Givens won me over just by saying with a smile, "All my life, fried chicken's been my favorite."  Food reflects the person, and there's no way the line would have had any positive effect on me if it had been about tofu or quinoa.  The hat is gilding the lily, really!  Finally, what about all the critics' praise for Timothy Olyphant in this complex, intriguing role?  


OK, I can't help quoting a relevant scene from one of my favorite Westerns, 1993's splendid (and splendidly quotable) Tombstone:

Josephine Marcus: Interesting little scene. I wonder who that tall drink of water is.
Mr. Fabian: My dear, you've set your gaze upon the quintessential frontier type. Note the lean silhouette ... eyes closed by the sun, though sharp as a hawk. He's got the look of both predator and prey.
Josephine Marcus: I want one.
Mr. Fabian: Happy hunting.


lumpy said...

I'll second this review. I watched the first episode a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it. I will say that some of the "Southern" culture presented makes we wonder; it seems to edge toward parody at times. OR, maybe I have a different view of Southern culture. Not sure which.

Mad Minerva said...

Yup. I'm giving the show some leeway in that it specifically means to try for a small discrete slice of Southern culture - i.e., it's only gone for a piece of rural coal-country Kentucky, not "the South" which is huge and really half the country. Some of the characters do seem a little much at times, but I'll give the show credit for showing that not Everybody is some kind of crazy redneck parody.

lumpy said...

Good point. That is worth something.

Also, that is a great hat.

Mad Minerva said...

That is a FABULOUS hat.

Anonymous said...

You guys need to crawl out from under your rocks and watch some more tv. There are a lot of great shows right now.

If you wait three years just so you can watch all the seasons in a weekend, you better have a good excuse like you were on the Moon or trapped in a Chilean coal mine.

Actually, neither of those two excuses would work because in both cases you would still have access to popular media...

- wodun

Mad Minerva said...

Too much work to watch a lot of TV!

lumpy said...

Nah. There are too many classics I haven't read yet to bother about most TV.