Justified – an American TV classic

JustifiedHaving 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.

Related imageJustified‘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.

Book Review – PRONTO (1993) by Elmore Leonard

PRONTO by ELMORE LEONARD (1993; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 226pp) ***½

Image result for elmore leonard pronto weidenfeld & NicolsonBlurb: Harry Arno runs a South Miami Beach gambling operation. To protect his position, he was forced to cut a deal with the local muscle, Jimmy Capotorto (Jumbo Jimmy Cap), an even fifty-fifty split. For years Harry had been padding his own stake by skimming off the top. Now a couple of local detectives – wise to sticky fingers – try to bag Jimmy by putting the squeeze on Harry. U.S. Marshals deliver Harry to court to testify at Jimmy’s trial. Even though he’s a step slower than he used to be, Harry’s no fool – he slips out of the country pronto. With Jimmy Cap’s men following and the Feds close behind, the three sides end up in Italy, watching their own backs while keeping abreast of Harry’s. But it’s not until the chase leads back to Miami that the real winners and losers are revealed …

Being a huge fan of the TV series Justified, which ran from 2010-15 featuring Timothy Olyphant as Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, I thought I’d go back to the source of his creation with this 1993 novel by Elmore Leonard. All the facets of Raylan’s character are set out here in this slight tale of a fugitive being hunted down by both the law and the gangsters he has been skimming from. Most of the action takes place in Italy, where Harry Arno has fled with his girlfriend, Joyce. All the characters here are well drawn and typical of Leonard’s crime novels – the sharp-talking small-time crook, the over-confident hit-man, the crime boss past his sell-buy date, the girls that skirt and scheme around these characters getting what they can for themselves. Whilst there in no real deep message or social commentary in this tale, what it lacks in depth it makes up for with its witty dialogue and fast-moving plot. Raylan, here, is slightly older than he is portrayed in Justified and has two kids from his failed marriage to Winona. Otherwise his character is in sync with that essayed so well by Olyphant. In fact, the last scene of the book is the first scene of the TV series creating a nice link to the show. Pronto was also adapted for the small screen as a TV movie in 1997 with James Le Gros the first actor to portray Raylan Givens and Peter Falk taking on the role of Harry Arno.

Raylan Givens books by Elmore Leonard:
Pronto (1993) ***½
Riding the Rap (1995)
Fire in the Hole (short story) (2002) – the basis for Justified.
Raylan (2012) ***½

TV Review – JUSTIFIED (2010-2015)

JUSTIFIED (2010-2015, USA, 1 x 52m and 77 x 38-45m, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Crime/Drama/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗
     Starring: Timothy Olyphant (Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens); Nick Searcy (Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen); Joelle Carter (Ava Crowder); Jacob Pitts (Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson); Erica Tazel (Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks); Natalie Zea (Winona Hawkins); Walton Goggins (Boyd Crowder); Jere Burns (Wynn Duffy).
     Developed by Graham Yost, based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard; Executive Producers: Elmore Leonard, Graham Yost, Fred Golan, Michael Dinner, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Dave Andron, Don Kurt, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Elmore, Benjamin Cavell, Chris Provenzano; Theme Music: Steve Porcaro
     DVD Blurb: For six electrifying seasons, no crime series proved more combustible than the Peabody Award-winning Justified. At the explosive centre of the action, Western-style, gun-slinging U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) confronts murder, drugs, bank heists, mobsters, crime families, corrupt politicians and even his own tumultuous past – and never backs down. His ultimate adversary is the cunning, complex outlaw Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), but the real wild card is Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), the mysterious woman torn between the two men and both sides of the law. From creator Graham Yost and based on legendary author Elmore Leonard’s crime novella “Fire in the Hole,” it all leads to a perfectly unexpected final showdown.
Season One (2010) ∗∗∗∗
The story arc of season one concentrates on the crimes of the Crowder family. Raylan seeks to protect Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) from the rest of the Crowder clan after she shoots her husband, Bowman Crowder, dead in retaliation for years of abuse. Mix of standalone episodes and story arc make for a slightly disjointed season offset by the strength of characters and a witty scripts. Olyphant displays a wry charm and toughness, whilst Goggins creates a character of real depth as the bigoted criminal who got religion, Boyd Crowder.
Season Two (2011) ∗∗∗∗∗
Season 2 deals primarily with the criminal dealings of the Bennett clan. Family matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and her three sons Dickie (Jeremy Davies), Coover (Brad William Henke), and Corbin County Police Chief Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor) plan to expand their marijuana business into Crowder territory following Bo’s death, as Boyd has proven somewhat reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps. The best series of Justified is helped by a superb support cast who give great depth to their characters, engaging plot and top-notch performances all round – notably Martindale as the matriarch Mags.
Season Three (2012) ∗∗∗∗
Season 3 introduces a new main villain, Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) of Detroit. The criminal organization connected to the Frankfort, Kentucky, mob has exiled Quarles to Kentucky. Quarles allies himself with local enforcer Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) and supplants the local criminals when Raylan begins investigating. Quarles is an initially interesting character but McDonough’s performance quickly descends into psychotic overkill. This season sees sadistic overtones playing an increasing part in the series.
Season Four (2013) ∗∗∗∗
Season 4 is about a mystery which was left unsolved for 30 years. On January 21, 1983, a man wearing a defective parachute plummets onto a residential street in Corbin, Kentucky, dying instantly. His body is surrounded by bags full of cocaine and an ID tag for a “Waldo Truth”. Interesting change of pace for the series that hinges on the mystery element. Once the mystery is solved it then becomes a tense tug-of-war between organized crime and the US Marshal Service.
Season Five (2014) ∗∗∗∗
Season 5 features the alligator-farming Crowe crime family, led by Darryl Crowe, Jr. (played by Michael Rappaport). The Crowes try to muscle in on the drug scene in Harlan county. Lots of incompetency amongst the criminals in their quest to climb the totem pole. This is interspersed with the series’ sometimes laugh-out-loud and dark wry humour and increasingly bloody violence. This is the series we get to see the most of Damon Herriman’s likeable rogue Dewey Crowe and he is excellent playing off Olyphant and Goggins.
Season Six (2015) ∗∗∗∗∗
Season 6 revolves around the culmination of Raylan and Boyd’s rivalry, complicated by Ava’s betrayal, the machinations of Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), and a plot to rob him by Boyd, Wynn Duffy and Markham’s secret adversary. Boyd succeeds in robbing Markham, but Raylan’s plan to entrap him with Ava’s help has tragic consequences. Triumphant final season rivals season 2 in quality and depth of character, displaying all the series’ strengths in its writing and performances with humour, shock twists and a satisfying conclusion to the Raylan/Ava/Boyd triangle. This has always been an excellent series for females and Carter gives her best performance of the series as the resourceful Ava, whilst Mary Steenbergen is also very good as the seductive and cruel Katherine Hale.