The Shield — Killer TV No 6

We’re into the top six of CrimeTimePreview’s Killer 50 crime shows…


FX, 2002-2008, seven series

‘Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.’ – Vic Mackey

Michael Chiklis, Glenn Close, Catherine Dent, Paula Garces, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace, Kenneth Johnson, Forest Whitaker

Identikit: An experimental LAPD division is set up to deal with a crime-ravaged district of the city, with a Strike Team that includes leader Vic Mackey, a brutal and illegal operator who maintains order while profiting from drug-protection scams.

logosExploring the bad side of the badge, The Shield was a slickly scripted, pacy portrayal of city policing as a form of urban warfare. Though an ensemble drama, it was the block-like figure of Detective Vic Mackey that dominated proceedings. He was violent, obnoxious, insubordinate, corrupt – but effective. He made enemies on the street and at the Barn (the converted church that served as headquarters), particularly politically ambitious Captain David Aceveda. From the pilot these two butted heads, with Mackey telling Aceveda that he did not answer to the captain, and Aceveda planting officer Terry Crowley to gather evidence on Mackey’s corrupt methods and protection racket for drug dealers. The episode ended spectacularly with Mackie shooting Crowley in the face during a drug siege and making it look like the cop was killed in the shootout. The question of whether Mackey, whose clean-up rate also made him powerful allies in the police hierarchy, would ever have any justice visited on him kept the tension simmering brilliantly for seven series. Mackey was no pantomime villain, however, but a complicated figure of contradictions, loving his children and generous with his assistance to the odd hooker, but happy to set a police dog on a drug dealer. The biggest threat to the Strike Team came from Internal Affairs Department investigator Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh, played with scary intensity by Forest Whitaker. The Shield was a riveting journey with a great cast of characters, including Mackey’s cronies, such as Shane Vendrell, the strait-laced, pompous Dutch, and Claudette, the star detective unjustifiably kept from promotion to captain. And topping it all was Mackey – ‘Al Capone with a badge’ – who never failed to appal and fascinate.

Classic episode: On Tilt – the finale to season three saw the Strike Team targeted by an Armenian hit man and Vic taking matters into his own hands, while Claudette endangered her career by pursuing a risky case that made her unpopular with colleagues and the DA.

Music: Hip hop (Master P), pop (Duran Duran), country (Willie Nelson) and hard rock (Kid Rock) all featured during the series. The theme music was composed by Vivian Ann Romero, Ernesto J Bautista and Rodney Alejandro.

Watercooler fact: Kurt Sutter, who produced, wrote, directed and even starred in The Shield (as Armenian hit man Margos Dezerian), went on to create Sons of Anarchy, which stars his wife, Katey Sagal.

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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Justified 3 – Slaughterhouse, starring Timothy Olyphant. Don’t miss it!

Best of enemies – Walton Goggins as Boyd and Timothy Olyphant as Raylan

Rating: ★★★★½ 

5USA: Wednesday, 20 June, 9pm

It’s sad that Justified doesn’t have a really big rep in the UK. Series three is about to wrap on 5USA with an explosive finale that, while full of bangs, will pass most viewers with not even a whimper.

The episode is called Slaughterhouse and, yes, the title is justified. Because during the previous 13 weeks some very nasty characters have been dancing round each other and the music is about to stop.

Timothy Olyphant as US Marshal Raylan Givens has again been superb but, as is often the way in crime stories dreamt up by brilliant Elmore Leonard, it has been the evildoers that have stuck in our mind during this series.

Boyd Crowder, Limehouse and Quarles

Money men – Limehouse and Quarles

Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder has again been the slick schemer without ever managing to make it big as a crime boss in his home town of Harlan, Kentucky. Mykelti Williamson has been menacing as a true power in the neighbourhood, Ellstin Limehouse, usually wielding a chopper on the carcass of some unfortunate hog.

Jere Burns as Wynn Duffy has been a particularly slippery operator, but it is Neal McDonough as creepy psycho Quarles who has stolen the show. A sexual predator who is sadistic and odd in equal measure with his Midwich Cuckoo looks, he will present the biggest threat to Raylan in the final showdown – and that’s after the Marshal has hit Limehouse in his own compound.

Look out for Justified series four
The one omission for this superb series, which is probably the freshest, wittiest and most richly charactered crime series on UK telly right now, is that Winona (Natalie Zea), who will soon have Raylan’s child, has been so estranged from the trigger-happy Marshal that we’ve hardly seen her.

Channel 5 – 5USA’s parent channel – has been sitting on a gem of a drama with Justified. If they get round to showing series four, they might want to try blowing their publicity trumpet about it to let viewers know it’s on.

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