Having just completed my third go-round of all six series of the TV series Justified (2010-2015) and also having recently read all of Elmore Leonard’s printed stories featuring modern-day Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, I have concluded Justified is the perfect example of how to take a literary creation and expand on the character and to create something even better for the TV screen. Even after three full viewings I haven’t tired of the series and will probably go round again in another couple of years. Timothy Olyphant was born to play Raylan, with his laconic no-nonsense delivery and old-west values. Walton Goggins was so charismatic as local gangster Boyd Crowder he was resurrected from the dead, having been killed off in Leonard’s novella Fire in the Hole and again in the adaptation of that novella for the pilot. The supporting cast are all wonderful and the colourful and quirky characters they portray reflect the locale perfectly.
Elmore Leonard created the character of Raylan Givens in his 1993 novel Pronto. This was followed by Riding the Rap two years later. Both novels set the template for the Raylan Givens character, which was closely followed in the TV series. It was Leonard’s third Givens story, the excellent 2002 novella Fire in the Hole, that was the basis for the series, with Raylan being relocated to Harlan County to end the criminal activities of Boyd Crowder. Raylan and Boyd dug coal together in the Harlan mines in their younger years, but now they are either side of the law with Raylan determined to bring Boyd to justice. A fourth book, Raylan, followed in 2012. This was three separate stories linked together by a theme of a female opponent for Raylan. The novel was based on story lines Leonard contributed to the TV series and also allowed him to resurrect the character of Boyd in print.
Justified‘s first series was more a run of singular episodes with an over-riding arc. The stories were therefore episodic, but vastly entertaining. It was the second season where the series really took off with the introduction of the Bennett clan, run by matriarch Mags, wonderfully played by Margo Martindale. The series began a new approach of a continuing story thread with each season bringing a new major character into the story, whilst the regular cast continued the longer arc that would reach its brilliantly written and satisfying conclusion at the end of the sixth and final season. I wrote a short review of each season in an earlier piece I posted and I don’t want to give too much away here, in case anyone has yet to experience what in my opinion is amongst the very best American TV series of all time.
If you have never watched Justified, go seek out the pilot and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
Come Home (2018; UK; Colour; 3 x 60m) *** pr. Madonna Baptiste; d. Andrea Harkin; w. Danny Brocklehurst; ph. Joel Devlin; m. Murray Gold. Cast. Christopher Eccleston, Paula Malcomson, Kerri Quinn, Anthony Boyle, Lola Petticrew, Darcey McNeeley, Brandon Brownlee, Patrick O’Kane, Brid Brennan, Derbhle Crotty, Rory Keenan. When mother Marie (Malcolmson) mysteriously leaves the family home, the repercussions are enormous, but when secrets are revealed from the past, both Marie and her husband Greg (Eccleston) realise they can’t just walk away from their lives. At times this often intense drama captures the depths of despair from both sides of the story with its structuring geared around a balanced perspective and a final episode designed to weight the arguments equally, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion. The story is therefore both authentic and ultimately disappointing. Authentic in that it does not go for the big dramatic climax and disappointing in that the climax itself is anticlimactic. Technical values are good, if at times the camerawork is overly self-indulgent. The performances from Eccleston and Malcolmson feel real and honest. In the end, though, you are left with more of a feeling of voyeurism than engagement – as if you’ve been watching real-life without the protagonists permission. This may well have been the intention, but the result is a good drama that somehow misses out on being something with more to say.
Happy Valley – Series 2 (TV) (2016; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) ***** pr. Juliet Charlesworth; d. Sally Wainwright, Neasa Hardiman; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster. Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Siobhan Finneran, Charlie Murphy, James Norton, Con O’Neill, Katherine Kelly, George Costigan, Shirley Henderson, Kevin Doyle, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Matthew Lewis, Amelia Bullmore, Angela Pleasence. Sarah Lancashire returns in the acclaimed BBC thriller written by Sally Wainwright. No-nonsense police sergeant Catherine Cawood is back heading up her team of dedicated police officers in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. While on duty, she makes a gruesome discovery – a body. The victim’s injuries bear a striking similarity to a string of other murders over the previous few months, suggesting a serial killer is on the loose. But the case becomes even more shocking when it emerges that Catherine knows the victim – something that could have serious repercussions for both herself and her family. Wainwright manages to match the extraordinary success of the first series with an equally absorbing follow-up that puts Lancashire’s police sergeant through the emotional wringer. This exceptional piece of TV works as a psychological thriller, a mystery and a gritty drama, but feels natural because of the humour that is deftly mixed with the darkness. Wainwright’s characters are well drawn and real – enhanced by superb performances from a very strong cast. The location work adds to the authenticity and the visuals are underpinned by a resonant score from Foster. 
Happy Valley (TV) (2014; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) ***** pr. Karen Lewis; d. Euros Lyn, Sally Wainwright, Tim Fywell; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster. Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton, Adam Long, Charlie Murphy, Karl Davies, Jill Baker, Rhys Connah. Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) is a strong-willed police sergeant in West Yorkshire, still coming to terms with the suicide of her teenage daughter, Becky, eight years earlier. Cawood is now divorced from her husband and living with her sister, Clare (Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who is helping her bring up Becky’s young son, Ryan (Connah), the product of rape. Neither Catherine’s ex-husband nor their adult son, Daniel, want anything to do with Ryan. Catherine hears that Tommy Lee Royce (Norton), the man responsible for the brutal rape that impregnated Becky and drove her to suicide shortly after Ryan was born, is out of prison after serving eight years for drug charges. Catherine soon becomes obsessed with finding Royce, unaware that he is involved in the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher (Murphy), a plot instigated by Kevin Weatherill (Pemberton) and orchestrated by Ashley Cowgill (Armstrong). Things quickly take a dark turn as the abductors scramble to keep the kidnapping secret, although Catherine is onto them. This is crime TV writing of the highest order, enhanced by a dynamite cast – including Lancashire as the world-on-her shoulders police officer and Norton as the dangerously psychotic ex-con. Well-paced and stylishly directed throughout – despite the use of three directors. Wainwright sealed her reputation as one of the best writers on TV with this series, which deftly mixes in elements of domestic drama along with a dry wit to complement a riveting crime thriller plot. A must see TV experience. 
Shetland – Series 4 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Eric Coulter; d. Lee Haven Jones, Rebecca Gatward; w. David Kane, Louise Ironside, Paul Logue; ph. Ed Moore, Michael Coulter; m. John Lunn. Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Julie Graham, Erin Armstrong, Lewis Howden, Stephen Walters, Neve McIntosh, Sean McGinley, Fiona Bell, Allison McKenzie, Amy Lennox, Sophie Stone, Gerard Miller, Eleanor Matsuura, Carolin Stoltz, Arnmundur Bjornsson. Perez (Henshall) and the team are forced to re-open a twenty-three year old cold case when convicted murder, Thomas Malone (Walters), is released from prison. The case concerns teenager Lizzie Kilmuir, who was found strangled to death on a kiln. Upon returning to Shetland, Thomas tries to make amends with Lizzie’s elder sister, Kate (McIntosh). Meanwhile, local journalist Sally McColl (Lennox) attends the Shetland Folk Festival with a group of her friends, but doesn’t return home later that evening. The next day, she is found strangled to death on a kiln, in what looks like a copycat of Lizzie’s murder. Top-class mystery with a bleak, isolated setting adding to the atmosphere. A strong cast – notably Henshall as the dedicated detective and Walters as the psychologically damaged, but misunderstood, convict – deliver earnest performances. Despite the length of the drama there is little flab in the plotting, which winds its way to a satisfying and tense conclusion. Based on the characters created by Ann Cleeves. 
Longmire – Season 6 Finale (TV) (2017; USA; Colour; 72m) **** pr. Brad Davis, Bryan J. Raber; d. Christopher Chulack; w. Hunt Baldwin; ph. Todd Dos Reis; m. David Shephard. Cast: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon, Louanne Stephens, Barry Sloane, Graham Greene. Nighthorse’s problems at the casino escalate. Walt gets an unexpected visitor that helps him with is search for Malachi. Nighthorse is betrayed. An inevitable confrontation leads to lives changed. Ferg tries to mend his relationship with Meg. A long awaited relationship blooms. Satisfying and crowd-pleasing finale to what has been a great modern western series that survived being axed by the network (A&E) after three seasons to see three more with Netflix thanks to a fan campaign. This last season, and this episode in particular, seems to have been written to provide a fan-friendly climax and some of the elements felt a little rushed in the wrap-up. But it is rare these days that a series gets the opportunity to do right by its characters and its audience. No plot strand is left loose and there are many poignant moments. In truth these days, with so many channels and programmers, it is very difficult to keep a series fresh, but this one never outstayed its welcome. Based on the excellent Walt Longmire mysteries written by Craig Johnson. 
Strike: Career of Evil (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 2 x 60m) **** pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Charles Sturridge; w. Tom Edge; ph. Maja Zamojda; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Ben Crompton, Andrew Brooke, Emmanuella Cole, Jessica Gunning, Matt King, Neil Maskell, Kierston Wareing. At the office, Robin receives a package and is horrified to discover it contains a woman’s severed leg. Strike draws up a list of suspects who have vendettas against him. Third in the Strike series is the most confident adaptation. Burke and Grainger (as Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott) have really settled into their roles and the plot allows room for development of the mystery alongside the progression of Robyn’s story. Loses a little bit of momentum in its second-part, but it is still a gorgeously shot and satisfying mystery. Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith). 
Collateral (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 4 x 60m) ***½ pr. Elizabeth Binns; d. S.J. Clarkson; w. David Hare; ph. Balazs Bolygo; m. Ruth Barrett. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jeany Spark, Nicola Walker, Nathaniel Martello-White, John Simm, Ahd, Billie Piper, Kae Alexander, Hayley Squires, July Namir, Ben Miles, Orla Brady, Rob Jarvis. An employee of a pizza delivery service is gunned down on the street in a south London suburb after delivering a pizza to the ex-wife of the Shadow Minister for Transport. DI Kip Glaspie (Mulligan) is assigned to investigate the case leading her to uncovering an elaborate people smuggling operation. An impressive cast and a dark and witty script from Hare lift this above the average TV spy/detective fare. Mulligan delivers a very natural and believable performance, whilst Simm, as the MP the opposition party would rather forget, is excellent at conveying the positive side of a deeply flawed character, drawing the viewer’s sympathies and delivering some of the Hare’s best lines. Piper is biting as his ex-partner. Spark also scores as a soldier tainted by what she has witnessed on tour in Iraq. The spy business is put across less successfully and feels a little overplayed at times and the story lacks a clear resolution, but on the whole this is a well-acted and directed drama that offers up much to recommend, despite ultimately failing to fulfil expectations. 
Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 60m) *** pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie, Lily Travers, Jared Garfield, Jodie Whittaker, Jenna Coleman, Matt Lucas. Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning. Self-indulgent bow-out for Capaldi’s Doctor with a confusing plot device designed to wring-out every emotion from fans of the series. It will likely have left non-fans cold with its frozen-in-time plot line as both 1st and 12th Doctors hold back their re-generations. There were nice touches in this episode – notably the resolution of the WWI army captain’s story and the meeting up with an old friend/foe. Bradley doesn’t always get the 1st Doctor right, but this is not helped by him being given some weak lines, knowingly poking fun at the changes in cultural environment since the days of those early serials. Capaldi is excellent, as ever, and it is sad to see his Doctor finally go. Whittaker’s brief appearance looked promising and left us on another cliffhanger. The production values were good and the photography excellent, but hopefully new producer Chibnall will move away from Moffat’s penchant for complex concepts and get back to good old-fashioned story-telling to win back a broader audience base. 
A Word – Series 2, The (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Jenny Frayn; d. Susan Tully, Luke Snellin; w. Peter Bowker; ph. Ruairí O’Brien, Ollie Downey; m. Rob Lane. Cast: Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Max Vento, Molly Wright, Christopher Eccleston, Vinette Robinson, Greg McHugh, Pooky Quesnel, Leon Harrop, Lucy Gaskell. Second series of the BBC drama following the Hughes family living in the Lake District and their young son Joe (the excellent Vento) who is diagnosed as autistic. In this second series Bowker opens up the story to broaden the scope of the story – bringing in the personal lives of the family and their impact on each other and on how they deal with Joe. Whilst the first series struggled initially to get the tone right before eventually striking a successful balance between drama and humour, this second series hits the ground running and produces a set of funny and touching scenes throughout an engaging and real story. The perfomances are excellent – notably the remarkable Vento as Joe and Eccleston as Joe’s tactless grandfather. Ingleby and Christie are also very good as Joe’s parents, who begin to drift apart as they struggle to come to terms with their son’s condition. Bowker’s writing manages to steer clear of descending into soap opera as he juggles numerous relationship storylines across six episodes. Making great use of its Lake District location this is a warm drama that treats its subject matter seriously whilst still finding a lovely humour that feels natural and respectful.