Justified, “Fire in the Hole”: You make me pull, I put you down.

Seeing Tom Papa talk about how hilarious “The Marriage Ref” is, or watching promos for that game show with the fat chef from the Friday’s commercials makes me sad. Why is there so much bad television these days? But when TLC is greenlighting shows about midgets who fall in love, along comes a show like “Justified,” and all is right with the world.

“Justified,” which made its debut last night on FX, was adapted from a short story by Elmore Leonard and centers around US Marshal Raylan Givens, played by a slightly less brooding Timothy Olyphant. Anyone who shed a tear at the passing of our beloved “Deadwood” back in 2006 should feel right at home here. While “Justified” lacks the Shakespearean flair of that other western, it’s got all the badassery we could ask for, and — hallelujah — a story and cast that looks more than capable of delivering the goods.

Raylan is a 19th-century lawman in a 21st-century world (I’m probably the first person to say that). After shooting and killing a “gun thug” down in Miami, he’s transferred back to his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky. As you’d expect, he’s not thrilled at the prospect of going home again. In addition to all the usual drug-dealers, white supremacists and killers, he’s now got his father, his ex-wife, and childhood friend Boyd Crowder (played by the insanely good Walton Goggins) to work with. But all of his reservations aside, this is a place better suited to his way of doing things.

Let’s be honest, lawmen/women who don’t like to [gravelyvoice]play by the rules[/gravelyvoice] is a heavily overused television trope, so a show like “Justified” could have a really hard time standing out. But having Olyphant in the lead role already gives it a huge boost. As Raylan talks to his ex-wife toward the end of the pilot, she tells him that he may do a good job hiding it, but he’s one of the angriest men she’s ever known. The look on Raylan’s face after hearing this is priceless and shows the depth Olyphant brings to the character. The “Deadwood” comparisons are unavoidable, but think a few shades lighter than Seth Bullock.

And the show’s done more to set itself apart from the pack. You’d think that Raylan would be another Martin Riggs. He runs around shooting bad guys and every now and then the Chief sits him down and gives him a good yelling at. At first he and Danny Glover don’t like each other, but after Raylan comes over for dinner you know they’re going to be best buds. This isn’t the formula “Justified” looks to be going with. Raylan’s boss, played by Nick Searcy, seems like he’s much more comfortable to sit back and watch as Raylan work the way Raylan likes to work. Situations like this are where the show gets a lot of its comedy from and one of the things that gives it that Elmore Leonard flair.

Of course I’ve only seen the pilot, so things could really go anywhere. The first episode borrowed generously from Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” but won’t have that luxury from now on. We’ll have to wait and see if the tone it’s set is something it can stick with. I would like to see a more serialized show but think it might work well as a procedural, even though those types of shows aren’t normally my thing. The pilot was so impressive that I’m willing to stick with it and see where the whole thing takes us. Definitely recommended.

Stuff I liked:

  • The pilot was filmed in areas of Pennsylvania while the rest of the first season was filmed in California. The pilot felt so authentically Southern and I hope that carries over in subsequent episodes.
  • Herc from “Friday Night Lights.”
  • “Man, I don’t understand you.”
  • A bunch of good one-liners that don’t sound trite and stupid. Maybe you’d have to be Timothy Olyphant to pull that off, though.

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