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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The hype is ‘Justified’

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

FX’s newest drama, “Justified,” which premiered on March 16, takes viewers on a journey through the “Dirty South,” where the gun-slinging cowboys and outlaws of the West are alive and well.

The show follows Deputy United States Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) as he returns to his hometown in rural Kentucky, a move which occurs after he ruffles some bureaucratic feathers in Miami by shooting a gun thug point-blank. Upon his return, he is faced with old friends-turned-criminals and old high school crushes-turned-murderers.

Raylan’s homecoming is anything but cheery. Instead, he is greeted with an ultimatum to leave town in 24 hours from Boyd (Walton Goggins), a friend he used to mine coal with and who now heads a robbery gang. Coincidentally, Boyd is the brother of a man murdered by Raylan’s high school crush, Ava (Joelle Carter), for physically abusing her. As this twisted plot shows, the TV drama does its best to capitalize off of the concept of the small, closely interconnected Southern town. The scary caricature of the South only escalates from there, with rednecks executing small acts of terrorism in pickup trucks and wearing oversized Confederate flag belt buckles.

Though it’s hard to tell how much of this portrayal is hyperbole, the show portrays the classic struggle between outlaw and lawman. While the first two episodes revolve around an external conflict between two individuals, it also becomes apparent that the fight between abiding by the letter of the law and vigilantism is an internal one for Raylan as well.

Though he definitely differentiates himself from the bad guys, his badass, edgy persona pushes you to the edge of your seat, wondering if he is going to pop that robber/ex-convict/etc. (depending on the particular episode) right then and there. As his ex-wife tells him, “Honestly, you’re the angriest man I’ve ever known.”

The fact that Raylan’s father, Arlo, is a career criminal also prompts viewers to wonder if Raylan inherited some bit of his father’s criminality. What makes Raylan such an appealing character is his ability to switch between refinement and brute masculinity. He can go from wooing the former head cheerleader to sternly threatening one of Boyd’s lackeys and disarming him with a swift jab to the stomach.

Olyphant is perfect in bringing Raylan’s complex character to the small screen. It also is new territory for Olyphant, who usually plays the bad guy, as seen in “Live Free or Die Hard,” where he played the remorseless techie villain, or in the comedy “The Girl Next Door,” where he assumed the role of a sleazy porn producer. Olyphant comfortably slips into Raylan’s badass persona without overdoing it. His attitude and performance are so convincing that the viewer can take him seriously even though he is clad in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.

Though the other cast members can hold their own beside Raylan, his persona is too cool to be matched. With Olyphant heading this drama, there’s no need for FX to justify this drama; it’s a closed case.

“Justified” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.