Such is the glut of American dramas that sit on the level below the big beasts, namely The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Breaking Bad, it is easy to be left frustrated when choosing your next direction. I’ve stuck with True Blood despite a huge drop in quality and a massive injection of madness, remained loyal to Sons of Anarchy after the ridiculous third season set in Ireland and have been quietly impressed at the gradual improvement in Boardwalk Empire and Andrew Lincoln’s turn in The Walking Dead.
Yet above those three, the one that I have come to love and really miss when a season ends is Justified. Before I get into why, I’ll add the kicker that I’m obsessed with all things Southern / Western. Give me a choice of fancy dress outfit and I’ll turn up as either a cowboy, a riverboat gambler or, on one occasion, a frontier prostitute. But if the sell of Justified dragged me in – US Marshall slays drug dealer in Miami and is sent back to the Boondocks of rural Kentucky where he was born – it is the quality of writing and several standout characters that has kept me coming back for more.
Loosely based on a character from a pair of Elmore Leonard novels and a further short story called Fire in the Hole, Justified is a mix of social commentary, a love story between the two male leads who sit on either side of the law, a highly dysfunctional father-son relationship and above all, a rollicking trip into the bars, oxy labs and sex dungeons of a place most of us will know very little about.
Timothy Olyphant, who you either hate or love for his performance as the stiff-backed Marshall in Deadwood, plays Raylan Givens, a trigger-happy Marshall who, over the course of the three and a bit series is regularly investigated by Internal Affairs, sleeps with a succession of beautiful yet damaged Southern Belles, fights with his crooked old man Arlo and plays a weird game of footsie with Boyd Crowder, his ex-school / work mate. Oh, and he kills people, loads of them.
If you’re ambivalent about Olyphant, and I guarantee this is his career role, then Boyd Crowder alone will keep you coming back. Played by Walton Goggins, who was excellent as Shane in The Shield, Crowder is, for my money, one of the finest drawn characters of any recent TV series. With his exaggerated drawl, hands in pockets long-legged lope and poker-face in the eyes of any number of mental situations, Crowder is utterly compelling as he switches between good, bad and ugly with aplomb.
I won’t give too much away, but with a cracking supporting cast - most notably Chief Marshall Art Mullen, Ava Crowder, Arlo Givens and the hideous Wyn Duffy - and a revolving cast of crazed hillbillies, Dixie Mafia, religious nuts and organ thieves, if you can stick with the slow-burn of the first series the rewards to be had in seasons two, three and so far four are well worth the wait. It’s also got this cracking theme tune, which is worth the entrance money alone.