Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm Justified In Praising Justified

The talk among TV critics these days is all about how the best talent has migrated from old line TV networks to the cable weblets.
And the often sensational series Justified is a case in point.
Season Four starts up on Super Channel Wednesday January 23 at 9 p.m.
In fact I should have interviewed the executive producer Graham Yost when I met him last year at Toronto's Royal Theatre when we honored his father the late great Elwy Yost.
Graham Yost started off big in movies with the smash Smash (1994) followed by the equally fine Broken Arrow (1996).
He then migrated to TV for NBC's L.A. cop saga Boomtown (2002) and then was co-executive producer of the mini-series The Pacific (2010).
Which brings me to Justified (2010) which Yost created from Elmore Leonard books as executive producer and sometimes writer.
But when I chatted up Yost I had yet to screen Justified --it had fallen off my personal radar for some reason.
Having now spent several days playing catch up I'm very enthusiastic about this one.
Timothy Oliphant is merely sensational as the ironic U.S. marshal Raylan Givens.
Also appearing in the first two new episodes are Patton Oswalt as a pudgy and bumbling small town sheriff named Bob Sweeney.
Then there's Walton Groggins's Boyd Crowther as an over-the-top drug dealer whose rages are simply fascinating to listen to.
And there's the slightly creepy itinerant preacher Preacher Billy played wonderfully by Joe Mazzello.
In the second episode Billy and Boyd engage in an over-the-top rant as they match Biblical quotes --Boys is convinced the illegal demand for oxy among his customers is due to Billy's preachifying.
Yost actually wrote the season premiere and has an ear for catching the resonance of Leonard dialogue which can be menacing and comical all at the same time.
I have also met star Olyphant when he was in Toronto promoting his first great TV series: Deadwood which got an early cancellation slip simply because it was too expensive to make.
A modest guy Olyphant has that unique ability to sink right into a character. His Raylan with his stetson and accent is a fully realized character.
First of all there's the series title which suggests Raylan was sent back to Harlan County, Kentucky as punishment by the law for shooting the guy who tortured his partner. And indeed we saw the act which happened in Miami and ended his career there.
I really enjoy the tortured father-son relationship between chief deputy Art Mullen (played by Nick Searcy)  and Raylan. It works for me. And there's Rayan's relationship with his con father who is behind bars. But the central one it seems to me is Raylan and Boyd --both had gun toting fathers, absentee mothers and both graduated the same high school and originally worked in the mines.
Raylan chose law and order, Boyd theft and disorder. After a bullet from Raylan Boyd has turned  into this highly vopcal right wing Christian.
The first two new hours take their time in getting to the plot. I suspect Yost just plain likes these Kentucky people so much he dawdles wonderfully over the way they converse and view the world.
One small cavil: I thought I glimpsed the Santa Monica mountains between two Kentucky buildings, a slight hint the series is mainly filmed in L.A.
In a telephone interview with critics Olyphant explained he uses a subdued accent because his character has been away from Kentucky for a long time. One theme he said predominates: Leonard's insistence on a moral code among thieves.
And the fact Rayan is a becoming a father doesn't mean we'll ever see the child. Olyphant who has three children explained: "Little kids on the set, they tend to be a pain."
All the plot I'll reveal is that in the season opener Raylan wanders into a 30-year old murder mystery that just may be traceable back to father Arlo after all.
In Justified every Kentuckian around from U.S. marshals to hookers seems in an odd way interconnected by the struggle to simply survive.
MY RATING: ****.

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