Justified — Killer TV No 17

Justified, Timothy Olyphant

If you want to get ahead… Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Raylan Givens

We’re now well into the top 20 of CrimeTimePreview’s Killer TV selection of the greatest crime shows ever…

FX, 2010 to 2015

‘I tell you to do one simple thing – refrain from screwing the witness in your own shooting – and you can’t even do that!’ Chief Deputy Art Mullen

Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, Mykelti Williamson, Margo Martindale, Neal McDonough, Erica Tazel, Joelle Carter

Identikit: Trigger-happy, no-nonsense US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a Miami mobster, causing him to be reassigned to his childhood home in the coal-mining towns of Harlan County, Kentucky.


logosSo many juicy elements come together in these six series about the polite but never-give-an-inch, Stetson-wearing deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, a maverick inspired by Elmore Leonard’s novels and the short story Fire in the Hole. We first encounter Raylan dispatching his no-nonsense justice in Florida when he shoots a mob hit-man, a justified but controversial killing for which he is reassigned to his native Kentucky. There, during the six seasons the drama lasted he tangles with mean operators – Boyd Crowder, Mags Bennett, Ellstin Limehouse, Robert Quarles – gets his ex-wife, Winona, pregnant, loses her again, and has liaisons, including one with a con-woman who gets away with all Raylan’s money. While great in a tight spot, Raylan is not perfect in other aspects of his life. He is haunted by the bitter relationship with his mean, criminal father, Arlo, and he makes mistakes, providing his exasperated boss, Art Mullen, with plenty of headaches (see the quote above). The series is a long way from the dull cop procedural, featuring great actors, fine stories and a real Bluegrass flavour. If the hero, here in the shape of pretty cool leading man Timothy Olyphant, is only as

Justified, Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

Best of enemies: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

good as the villain, charismatic Walton Goggins (now riding high for his terrific performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight), then Justified got the casting just right. The two characters, who once worked together in the mines, are lifelong pals turned adversaries, and give the series a great deal of its edge. We love their verbal sparring and deadly dance, but almost don’t want Raylan to get the better of Boyd. Justified captures the streetwise dialogue, machismo and romance found in Elmore Leonard’s novels better than many adaptations (any fond memories of The Big Bounce or Stick?). And while it’s never been a big mainstream hit, for viewers who want to dodge the pap of CSI or Hawaii 5-O, this goes down like a jolt of Kentucky bourbon.

Music: Long Hard Times to Come, by Gangstagrass

Classic episode: Bloody Harlan, season 2, episode 13. The finale to the second series was a good old-fashioned bloodbath, but made all the more epic for the comeuppance that meets the incredibly wicked and controlling Mags Bennett. The Crowder and Bennett clans go to war, Winona tells Raylan she’s pregnant, before Raylan is caught and nearly killed by Dickie Bennett. A terrific blend of character development and slick action.

Watercooler fact: Raylan Givens had featured in Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, along with the short story Fire in the Hole. Leonard’s 2012 novel Raylan came on the back of the TV series’ success.

Justified series 4, 5 USA with Timothy Olyphant PREVIEW

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Hole in the Wall, episode 1 of Justified series 4
Timothy Olyphant looks ahead to Justified’s new series. Pics: 5USA

Rating: ★★★★½ 

5USA: starts Wednesday, 8 May, 10pm 

Story: Raylan tries to earn a little extra cash by doing a side job for an old flame; namely, locating a murder suspect for her – a simple job gets very complicated for deputy US marshal. 

AMID a lot of dross cop procedurals on TV right now there are a couple of absolute gems tucked away, and Justified is one of them.

Now back on 5USA for his fourth season, the coolest lawman around, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, returns with a cracking opening episode that suggests the series will live up to previous levels of mayhem and badassery.

The cowboy-hat wearing, quick-on-the-trigger Raylan – played as ever with panache by Timothy Olyphant (ironic that a slick dude should be played by someone called Timothy) – gets a call from an old flame. Sharon, a bounty hunter, asks Raylan to keep an eye out for a murder suspect she is pursuing. There’s three grand in it for him.

Timothy Olyphant and Patton Oswalt in Justified
Raylan and Constable Sweeney held at gunpoint

Raylan gets his man, then loses him
Raylan, who doesn’t live in luxury, could use the money. No sooner does the episode get into its stride than he is in a Mexican stand-off with the fugitive who is sitting in his car – which Raylan resolves in brilliant style. However, being a touch arrogant, he then loses his man and finds himself in a touch of serious bother.

It’s an enjoyable reacquaintance with the series, added to by the introduction of Patton Oswalt as the newly installed local constable, puffed-up and self-important Bob Sweeney. Much fun should flow from this new character.

Having dispatched the vile Quarles in the last series – and a trademark of Justified is its superb evildoers – it looks as though a different kind of series-long mystery will drive the drama this time.

Raylan Givens in episode 1, series four of Justified
Raylan looking down another gun barrel

Justified’s season four mystery
The opener begins with a flashback to 1983 when a man plummets to the ground after his parachute lets him down. This could be connected to a confidential diplomatic bag and driver’s licence found in the wall of the home of Raylan’s villainous and now imprisoned father, Arlo.

The licence has the name Waldo Truth on it. When Raylan visits his father in prison, Arlo denies knowing anything about it, but warns his son off anyway. Another inmate knows what they were talking about, and when he puts pressure on Arlo, the old man stabs him to death. Later it will emerge that the bag could help in the arrest of a major mafioso.

Elsewhere, the brilliant Walton Goggins is back as Boyd Crowder to torment his old workmate turned marshal. Crowder recruits his an old army buddy, Colt Rhodes, to help with his drug racket, which is being dented by the arrival of a snake-handling revival preacher, Billy St Cyr, who’s converting Boyd’s dealers and users to God.

Justifed's Joelle Carter as Ava
Joelle Carter as Ava Crowder

Bold women, humour and plenty of slick action
So, why is Justified so captivating? It’s been one of the few screen adaptations that has come close to capturing the work of crème de la crime writer Elmore Leonard (who exec produces Justified). Inspired by the Leonard’s character of Raylan, who has appeared in stories such as Fire in the Hole, Riding the Rap and Pronto, the series has also had the wonderful backwater setting of Harlan County in Kentucky and been full of Leonard’s trademark dumb or vicious villains and a hotshot hero.

It’s got humour, emotion (particularly in series two, when Raylan liberated a teenage girl from the clutches of psycho matriarch Mags Bennett) and oodles of macho action. It’s also got some bold female characters, including Winona (Raylan’s ex with whom he is now having a child), Ava (his other ex, now allied to his enemy Boyd), and the terrifying Mags.

American networks such as FX (makers of Justified), AMC and HBO are currently producing a golden age of superb drama, which sadly leaves UK shows in the dust. And among bigshots such as Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire, Raylan Givens and co certainly walk tall.

Cast: Timothy Olyphant Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, Nick Searcy Chief Deputy US Marshal Art Mullen, Joelle Carter Ava Crowder, Jacob Pitts Deputy US Marshal Tim Gutterson, Erica Tazel Deputy US Marshal Rachel Brooks, Natalie Zea Winona Hawkins, Walton Goggins Boyd Crowder,  Raymond J Barry Arlo Givens,  David Meunier Johnny Crowder,  Jere Burns Wynn Duffy, Ron Eldard Colton Rhodes, Joe Mazzello Billy St Cyr, Gerald McRaney Josiah Cairn, Lindsay Pulsipher Cassie St Cyr, Patton Oswalt Constable Bob Sweeney, Mike O’Malley Nick ‘Nicky’ Augustine, Robert Baker Randall Kusik, Brian Howe Arnold

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Third degree: Cath Staincliffe

Pic: © Paul Herrmann

Manchester-based crime writer Cath Staincliffe is interrogated below for evidence of her TV viewing and reading activities. She writes the novels based on the Scott & Bailey series, which stars Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones and is soon to return to ITV – with her latest book about the female detectives being Bleed Like Me. Cath is also the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, which was on ITV and starred Caroline Quentin. 

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
(I’ll tell you now I’m rubbish at choosing single answers). Scott & Bailey, Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Morse, Cracker, Z Cars.  Can I have The Singing Detective too?

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
Justified, Southland, Breaking Bad, Hill Street Blues, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, The Sopranos. And can I chuck in Jack Irish (Australian), which I really like.

Top TV cop?
At the moment it’s Raylan Givens in Justified.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Hard this because choosing something to be adapted means a new interpretation of well-loved characters (which might be awful). Maybe a series with a fresh location we’ve not seen before like the Leaphorn and Chee novels by Tony Hillerman or Steve Hamilton’s chilly Alex McKnight stories. Or Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins – they could be amazing.

If another of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero? 
No idea. When Caroline Quentin was cast as Janine Lewis in Blue Murder she wasn’t how I imagined the detective in the book but she was brilliant in the role and made it her own so that after that I could only see her as that character.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)? 
Can’t think of anything really – there’s not enough time to watch all the good stuff (I only see a couple of hours a day) let alone rubbish.

Least favourite cop show/thriller? 
Never really warmed to Silent Witness.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos
Neck and neck.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? 
Philip Marlowe.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Enjoyed both.

US or British television crime dramas?
If I absolutely had to pick I’d choose US, but it’s a very close call.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
James Lee Burke, Tana French, Thomas H. Cook, Denise Mina, Walter Mosley, Steve Mosby, Belinda Bauer, Don Winslow, Kate Atkinson, Simon Lelic, Laura Wilson, Ken Bruen, Dennis Lehane, Claire Seeber, Sue Grafton … I could go on … and on.

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?
Yes! Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer, also Broken Harbour by Tana French. 

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Carol Birch, Toni Morrison, Sarah Waters, Kate Grenville.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. And if you won’t let me have that then Fargo, Con Air, LA Confidential, The Usual Suspects, Insomnia, In the Heat of the Night.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
I’d pick DCI Gill Murray and her Scott & Bailey team.  She’s bright, clever enough to see what’s really going on and she’d be totally committed to getting me off. Janet and Rachel would work their magic, Janet with her skill and sensitivity and Rachel with her reckless flair. Then we could all go to the pub for a good natter afterwards.
• In addition to Bleed Like Me, Cath Staincliffe has a new standalone novel out in April – Blink of an Eye.

CrimeTimePreview will be previewing Scott & Bailey 3 tomorrow…

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