The underappreciated genius of “Justified”

Lisa Levy at appreciates the brilliant TV series “Justified” is a hillbilly/hip-hop/21st Century Western that wanders all over the place but always comes back to the central conflict between lawman Raylan Givens and criminal Boyd Crowder.

The credits music of the show fuses gangsta hip-hop and bluegrass, and that’s the esthetic of the show too. Boyd and Raylan don’t rap “but they are subject to the hyperbole of hip-hop battles where rappers try to best each other with words,” says Levy. The dialogue on this show is sharper than the gunfights.

Justified is

a convoluted and absorbing story of cops and robbers, or more specifically, of US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (played with an aw-shucks charm by the preternaturally handsome Timothy Olyphant) returning to work in the eastern district of Kentucky, which includes his hometown in Harlan County. The show successfully traffics in Western tropes: time and again the outlaws go up against the lawman, a morally ambiguous character who enjoys his work a little too much. Justified is deeply rooted in Harlan, the coal-driven and decimated section of Kentucky, which is itself a symbol of a disappearing way of life: the hardscrabble work of coal mining. Much is made of the fact that Raylan dug coal before joining the marshal service, as going down in the mine is a rite of passage in Harlan. We are also often reminded that Raylan and the men he’s trying to catch, chief among them Boyd Crowder (a sensational Walton Goggins), dug coal together. Going down into the mines together in Justified is like massaging blubber side-by-side on the Pequod in Moby-Dick: it’s more than just work, it’s a way of life.

The show is as much about Harlan County as about any individual character, about the decline of mining and the rise of criminal activity in its place — though the county was always somewhat lawless.

Justified is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, and it retains some of the best aspects of Leonard’s crime writing: vivid storytelling, likable and sympathetic characters, and, most distinctively, a dry and pronounced sense of humor that permeates even the show’s considerable violence…..

Raylan Givens is an old-school gunslinging lawman who literally wears a white cowboy hat. He enjoys his work too much, particularly shooting people.

And the women of the show are as smart and deadly as the men.

Time for a re-watch!

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