Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Best Drama on TV

For all the hoopla surrounding the return of MAD MEN, the best drama of the year might well be JUSTIFIED. It has all the complexity of MAD MEN plus shit happens! A lot!  Personally, I was a little underwhelmed by the MAD MEN premiere even though I'm a huge fan of the show.  But that could just be me.  Critics went nuts.   What did you think?

But I digress...

Graham Yost, who may be as brilliant as Matt Weiner but doesn’t have Matt's zest for PR, had an impossible task this year. JUSTIFIED’s second season was extraordinary with maybe the best TV villain since Glenn Beck. Margo Martindale took home an Emmy for her delicious portrayal of evil matriarch and convenience store owner, Mags Bennett. I wondered, how could they possibly top themselves?

Well, they have.

This year is amazing. There are only three episodes left (it airs Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on FX), but you can probably catch up pretty quickly. Or, go back on line or on demand and watch the first ten – other than reading blogs what else is there to do to kill a day?

In case you’re totally unaware of this show, JUSTIFIED follows the exploits of U.S. Marshall, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) who is re-assigned to his hometown in Harlan, Kentucky. Imagine Li’ Abner with guns and meth labs. His chief nemesis is also at times his one ally, Boyd Crowder. Walton Goggins, who was great in THE SHIELD is through-the-roof spectacular here.

Everyone in JUSTIFIED plays to the top of their intelligence. Considering the backwoods setting you’d imagine that would be an IQ of 9. But these folks are cagey, wily, and speak in a stylized manner that I can only describe as cornpone poetry. Yes, they’re hillbillies, rednecks, racists, murderers, and crooks, but they never say “y’know” and “like” and thus talk better than we all do.

Raylan is the coolest cat on the small screen. Fonzie with marksmanship skills. Yet, he’s clearly flawed. His bemused boss tolerates him, his co-workers hate him, his ex-wife left him (even though she’s pregnant with his baby), and so this “hero” of our show lives in a seedy room over a bar. The closest person he has to a friend is career criminal Boyd, so when he’s not beating the shit out of him the two go out for drinks.

This year there are several villains. In addition to Boyd, there’s now Limehouse, an African-Kentuckian who owns a BBQ joint, speaks folksy, and knows everything that’s going on. It’s like he has “the machine” from PERSON OF INTEREST and is somehow able to keep tabs on all that’s happening from the comfort of his meat slaughtering shed. Mykelti Williamson plays him as sort of a cross between Uncle Remus and the Samuel L. Jackson character from PULP FICTION.

And then there’s Quarles. The Emmy this year goes to Neal McDonough. He’s the ultimate champagne villain as envisioned by David Lynch. So smooth, so scary, so fucking WEIRD! His henchman is Wynn, played by sitcom vet, Jere Burns. Wynn is a bad ass in his own right but even he is freaked out by Quarles. His reaction shots are priceless.

Then, for a little spice, there’s Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies from LOST), the Fredo and only surviving member of Mags Bennett’s family. Jeremy is setting the standard for weasels that actors will be trying to live down to for years.

Things are about to come to a head in Harlan County. All the villains are jockeying for position, ready to make their move. Can Raylan thwart them all? A war’s a comin’! Somehow, Pete Campbell wanting a bigger office doesn’t seem as riveting.

JUSTIFIED, tonight at 10:00 on FX.  Rated V for violence, L for language, and if we're lucky -- S for sexual situations and nudity.

Just a reminder.  You can get my book of humorous travelogues, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED for FREE -- Kindle version only.  And only for three days.  Just click here to download yours FREE today

UPDATE: There was a glitch but now it's been resolved and the book is again available to download for free.  Talk about the old joke -- I couldn't GIVE AWAY my book for about an hour.  Thanks to everyone for getting it... and telling your friends. 


Rory W. said...

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Ken on this one. Justified is GREAT.

Elmore Leonard created the character of Raylan Givens in his novels Pronto, Riding the Rap, and the short story collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. The TV show draws heavily on the storylines from the books.

This is a mixed blessing as if you're a fan of the show and go looking for more Raylan, the books feel like a re-hash and vice versa.

I recently bought Leonard's latest book, Raylan, and was very disappointed to find that I had seen/heard all of the stories already in Justified.

Kirk D G said...

Hi Ken. Are you familiar with Graham's Yost's father Elwy?

For many years Elwy Yost hosted Saturday Night at the Movies on TV Ontario(Canada)and shared his enthusiasm for old movies with some incredible interviews.

He taught me and I'm sure many others to love old movies at an early age.

Elwy passed away last summer I believe but he was treasured in Canada.

Jake James said...

Justified is by far the best show on Tv. Hands down. No question. Nothing else is even close.

Raylan gives Quarles the look. He pulls his weapon. Fires into the ceiling. "Why wait?"


Lynne said...

I couldn't agree more - this show has been absolutely brilliant this year. I don't know how they do it -each show seems to top the last one. My only complaint - I miss Dewey. (And talk about being brilliant - in real life, Dewey's Australian!)

Brian Phillips said...

I enjoy "Justified" immensely, although I am a couple of seasons behind! I did see some of the Margo Martindale episodes, though.

On a side note, I don't want to see Raylan nude, though...

DonBoy said...

I just watched The Crazies last night, which, starring Olyphant, is the closest you're ever going to get to "Raylan Givens fights zombies", so if that sounds good to you, check it out.

Unknown said...

So, I just saw Olyphant on Letterman and he's hilarious. However, I kept waiting for him to break out into a southern drawl. I sooooo want him to be Raylan in real life. Who else can you say that about? Don Draper? I love Don's character, but let's face it-- he's a dick. Tony Soprano? Psycho. Dexter Morgan? Weird and introverted. Raylan's the only character I want to jump off the screen and have a drink with. Well, I want to be him, but I can't pull off a stetson and women's panties don't drop at the sound of my molasses voice.

Unknown said...

Oh, and by the by, the best non-Justified Olyphant role, in my opinion, is from a little gem of a great B-movie- "Perfect Getaway". By no means a perfect movie, it's Raylan Givens on a vacation kicking ass. Love it.

Rock Golf said...

@Krirk: Elwy introduced almost everyone in Toronto to classic films. One of the most beloved TV personalities in Canadian history and his interviews with everyone from stars to gaffers always brought insight to film.

There's a famous story that Yost, himself a high school teacher while hosting various TV movie shows, once sent a note to Graham's teacher saying "Please excuse Graham's absence. Citizen Kane was on the late show."

In Canada we're just starting Justified season 1 on ShowCase and I've already got the equivalent of a "season's pass" on it.

-bee said...

I was underwhelmed by the Mad Men premiere too. It was more like a mid-season treading water episode than a first episode that sets up a 'vision' of what the various storylines and overriding narrative will be for season 5.

Jessica Pare is a lovely woman but just as her character was confused about how she fits into the agency - I was too, what is it she wants? What if anything is she good at? One would have thought Peggy would represent a threat to her but it seemed like she was trying to be friends with her. Why?

There was a lot of great stuff there though - really liked the opening scene and the costumes were awesome.

As I am in a long queue just to see season 2 of Justified, I can't really comment on it, but I find it hard to believe Neal McDonough is as great as Gincarlo Esposito was as Gus on Breaking Bad - one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen.

Howard Hoffman said...

Amen. Throughout the season, I kept wondering why Quarles didn't get the hell out of Harlan and run back to Chicago. I asked, what's with this character? Is this guy a glutton for punishment? Holy shit, they sure answered that question. JUSTIFIED's one of the few shows I watch while I'm DVRing it.

Jim S said...

Just heard Elmore Leonard speak at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Michigan a couple of weeks ago. He's proud of the show and wrote the book Raylan specifically so that the producers could, in his words, strip it for parts, which the producers were more than happy to do. You don't turn down gifts from the master. He said at the end of the evening he had just started another Raylan book. By that, he was on page three.

As to why Quarles couldn't go back home to DETROIT, not Chicago, they made it clear over the arc of his story. He's in exile for his proclivities with rent boys. I give the producers credit. When the reference Detroit, the get the geography right. So often Hollywood gets local geography wrong. Of course in 24, they got Los Angeles geography wrong, so it's nothing personal.

Jason said...

Olyphant was also great in Deadwood. I first saw him in Go, and even in that small role, the intensity was obvious.

But for my money, the best character in Justified is Nick Searcy as Art. I knew a lot of men like him growing up in the midwest. You might not look at them twice on the street, but very little gets by them, and they've got inner reserves of decency and fortitude that carry them through just about any situation. I think they're the unappreciated engine of civilization, and I love the fact that this show is portraying at least one of them so faithfully. Some guys want to be Raylan. I want to be like Art.

Blaze said...

It was your enthusiasm for "Justified" a year or so ago that made me look it up. My wife and I are huge fans now! The kind of show that makes us very grumpy when it finishes for a season. "What, these lazy actors need a break? KEEP GOING!"

Brian said...

I'm a fan too. Thanks for pointing out Justified, Ken.

Helder Carvalho said...

I woould agree with you if it wasn't for two shows: Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, the two best dramas on TV.

Emily Blake said...

Oh man, Neal McDonough's performance on that last episode - that speech where he talks about what his father did to him - ridiculous. I always felt like he was a better actor than 90% of the roles he gets. It's awesome to see him get a chance to really go to work.

It's also nice to see such well developed portrayal of Southerners. So good, this show.

Doug said...

Agree with you 100%. It's the only show I never miss.

Michael Zand said...

Justified soared the heights this season in the episode where Dewey Crow (Dickie Bennett's henchman) went on a robbery spree trying to raise money to buy back his (so he thought) removed kidneys.

That episode was a brilliant mixture of horror and comedy rarely seen on TV.

Promo Member Alfamart Minimarket Lokal Terbaik Indonesia said...

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Ken on this one. Justified is GREAT.

Le scénariste du dimanche said...

Justified is one of the best show on air, and I'm a bit surprised that it's also aired in France (Vive la France). We (I mean the French Televion Industry) use to air shows that are not really interesting at prime time (Having Horatio Caine presented as one of the coolest character on television is a nightmare). So when I saw that Justified airs in France, wow, a pretty good news.

Hoping to have some good drama from your country, because here things have to change (French dramas are soooooo boring (like really)).

John Pearley Huffman said...

Today's sitcoms are mostly dull specimens. But this is the golden age of TV drama. And it's a great time for sports and news too. The best channel ever on TV would feature these current shows:

1. Breaking Bad
2. Justified
3. Mad Men
4. Southland
5. The Good Wife
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm
7. Game of Thrones
8. SportsCenter
9. Pardon The Interruption
10. Top Gear (UK)
11. 60 Minutes
12. CBS Sunday Morning

That's six great dramas, one great comedy, two well done sports shows, one fantastic car/adventure/stupidity show, and two amazing news feature shows that don't get the credit for week-in and week-out excellence they deserve.

Add in a bunch of live sports, reruns of several classic comedies and The Rockford Files, and there's no reason to ever leave the house.

That's 12 shows at the very top of their game on at the same time. By that measure, it may be the strongest era for TV ever.

kingcooky said...

I too was underwhelmed with Mad Men. I think it was too expositional from last season to this season.

I haven't heard of Justified, but I'm definitely checking it out now. Thanks for the tip!

I agree - now is the golden age of 1-hour TV drama. Hollywood big wigs are noticing too: Scorsese doing Boardwalk Empire & Oscar winner Hoffman doing Luck. I dare say TV drama trumps movie drama these days.

D. McEwan said...

I haven't seen Justified, but I've been lovin' me some Revenge. It's like Dynasty for the 21st Century, where everyone is Alexisis.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have to agree - as much as I like Mad Men, I am obsessed with Justified. I'm in awe of the brilliance of the writing and the performances, it's all so gripping and entertaining.
Walton Goggins is always spectacular, Olyphant is so authentic, and this season Neal McDonough has been knocking it out of the park too. Every actor on the show, even those playing the smallest parts, have been amazing.

Barry Traylor said...

Thank you Ken for also being a fan of my favorite show on tv at this time. Oddly enough although I rarely rewatch crime shows Justified is the exception as the dialogue is just so darned good. All the actors on the show (even the few you did not mention) seem to be at the top of their game.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Personally, I was a little underwhelmed by the MAD MEN premiere even though I'm a huge fan of the show.
You and me both. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something was missing.

Justified is great. I don't know if they've completely filled Mags Bennett's shoes, but they're close. I hope Limehouse and his holler crew are in for the long haul. I don't know Elmore Leonard well enough to say for sure, but it seems to me the creators were heavily influenced by Deadwood, and I don't mean just Tim Olyphant and Jim Beaver (Elsworth). Boyd Crowder could be Al Swearengen's great-great-great nephew, and Ava has a little bit of Trixie about her. Now if they could just bring in Robin Wiegert as a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking FBI or DEA agent....

jbryant said...

Jim, Cheers Fan: Other DEADWOOD alums who have popped up on JUSTIFIED include W. Earl Brown, Steven Tobolowsky, Tim De Zarn, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Ray McKinnon.

I'm not sure I've seen that much Milch influence in the show (thought your points about Boyd and Ava are well taken); I just assume Olyphant (who is also one of the producers) likes to hire his old colleagues.

Ref said...

I love Justified, but literally cannot stay up that late anymore. I'll be buying the Season Three DVD's.

olucy said...

Can't agree enough with this. Not only on how great Justified is, but how underwhelming Mad Men was.

Unknown said...

John Pearly Huffman, I love your list of great drama. Really. I don't watch all of those, but the one that stands out is Southland. Holy shit, that is hands down the best police show out there. Among the shortest hours of viewing out there. Good call.

Red said...

I felt exactly the same about the Mad Men premiere, aka: "Two hours of not much of anything happening." Thinking back on it, pretty much all I remember about the premiere was that Don Draper doesn't like surprise parties.

Seriously, Don married his secretary in haste and may just wind up repenting at leisure...and that's about all I can remember "happening" over the course of two hours. Oh, and it turns out Joan has a mom, and she's kind of a bitch. I remember other characters being there, but did they do anything, evolve in any way? It all felt strangely...inert. And not for the usual reason of a premiere: setting up the characters and basic conflicts, etc. I agree with whomever said it was more like the saggy middle of an episode or season than the beginning.

I just stumbled on this blog a week or so ago, and have been zealously devouring archived entries ever since. Totally addictive. I'll be sad when I've read them all, but happy to once again have that time freed up for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...

chuckcd said...

Mad Men season premiere:
2 hours of people whining.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Not that this should make anyone happier with the Mad Men premiere - although I liked it - but comparing the two shows is like comparing apples and pelicans (or gold mining and alchemy). JUSTIFIED is an adaptation of some particularly rich material; MAD MEN is an original, albeit one drawing for its background on the particularly rich historical (eek!) era of the 1960s.

Along those lines, I thought Julianna Margulies was right to say it was odd to have THE GOOD WIFE competing with MAD MEN in the drama category of the Emmys when TGW produces 22 episodes a year and MM does 13 every couple of years.

As for Quarles, I keep expecting his head to burst off showing an alien or a liquid metal robot inside or something. (I also find it bizarre, though irrelevant, that the actor apparently refuses to do sex or nude scenes because he's a Catholic - but has no objection to playing a psychotic killer.)


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