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Have you ever watched a western and wondered, where’s all of the gun-fighting? I thought cowboys gunned each other down left and right back in the day. Justified knows how to deliver on the cowboy lore with a modern twist, well-developed characters and flawless dialogue that makes the series an absolute must binge.
There are great television shows. Shows that entertain us and keep us riveted for several years. The kind that we wait in anxious anticipation for their return in the fall, summer, or whenever it is they run their course.
Then, there are the shows we don’t want to end. We don’t want to leave the worlds’ they’ve created, and we know we’ll miss the characters once they’re gone. I know some people — most in fact — will find this a novel concept. It’s just a television show. Most of them are tales of total fiction that percolated in the head of some insane man or woman called a writer. But think about it.
Nowadays, our relationships with fictional characters last longer than most real-world relationships, be it lovers, friends, or otherwise. They’re a part of our lives for 8, 10, 13, 24 weeks over a matter of years. We watch their lives unfold like flies on the walls, inserting ourselves into their highs and lows, and sharing in the emotions that come with those ebbs and flows.
A few shows have left me wanting more. None, more so than Justified, a series that was based on the short story “Fire In the Hole” by Elmore Leonard. (Leonard would also write about U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens in the novels “Pronto”, “Riding the Gap”, and “The Eponymous Raylan.”) I am not ashamed to admit I’ve binged the series six or seven times since it ended its run on FX in 2015. It doesn’t lose any of its shine with each new viewing. The dialogue is far and away some of the best to ever grace the small screen. I credit a lot of that to Elmore Leonard himself.
He used to say there’s a rhythm to dialogue, and that if it sounded like writing he’d rewrite it. He wouldn’t allow the “rules” of writing to ruin a good story. I believe very few rules should ever apply to dialogue. How many of us speak in complete sentences all of the time? We don’t. We speak in fragments. We cut each other off mid-sentence, speak over one another, change tactics in the middle of an argument, and fumble our words more often than we’d like to admit. That’s why the dialogue in Justified is so good. It’s natural. It’s realistic. Most of us are jerks to our friends, and even more so to our enemies. With our friends, it’s to laugh WITH them. For our enemies, it’s to laugh AT them, but either way, we’re jerks all the same. The witty, wry, sarcastic, smooth, and entertaining dialogue of Justified is an absolute feast for one’s eardrums.
Never is that dialogue more of a treat, than when it flows from the mouth of the outlaw Boyd Crowder, played by the brilliant and underrated Walton Goggins. Boyd is Shakespeare with a southern drawl. One villain sarcastically, told Boyd that he loved the way Crowder would utter twenty words when four would do. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. That same villain would later say that he’d need a thesaurus in order to continue working with Boyd. Crowder was loquacious to say the very least. He spoke with the articulation of a T.S. Eliot poem, uttered with the speedy skill of an auctioneer.
I’ve often thought it was Boyd’s way of distracting his enemies or victims. Kind’ve like Spider-Man. Boyd’s main tactic in his crimes was to create diversions to keep the cops busy. Maybe, that extended to his vocabulary. Another option could be that he felt his ability to speak with so much elegance, raised him above his redneck station in life. The words he uttered with such eloquence overshadowed his lack of a formal education and warned people that he was far too smart a man to be trifled with. Hard to believe, he wasn’t supposed to make it out of the first episode.
The opposite side of the coin from Boyd Crowder is the aforementioned U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens played brilliantly by Timothy Olyphant. Raylan doesn’t speak nearly as much as Boyd. I don’t think anyone does. But, when Raylan speaks, it’s best to listen. He doesn’t waste words. When Raylan speaks, he gets to the point because he wants you to know he’s serious. That’s not to say Givens can’t be funny. His sarcastic one-liners are laugh out loud hilarious throughout the series, and it’s his wit that he uses to keep criminals off balance. Making them feel defeated/deflated long before he slaps the cuffs on them. He may not be as smooth as Boyd with his vernacular, but he’s no less fun to listen to.
Elmore Leonard once said that his characters are Psychopaths. “People who know the differences between right and wrong, but don't give a shit. That's what most of my characters are like.” Raylan and Boyd certainly fit that billing, and they aren’t the only ones.
Wynn Duffy is a member of the Dixie Mafia. He’s a con man, a thief, a murderer, and one helluva fun bad guy. At times we want him dead. At others, we root for him to make it out alive. That takes incredible writing. The same goes for Dewey Crowe, a wannabe outlaw that comes across more like a lost puppy. The first time you meet Ava Crowder you discover she's breathtaking, AND she blew her abusive husband away with a shotgun during dinner. Patton Oswalt's Constable Bob steals every scene he's in.
Raylan’s fellow Marshals are great too. Chief Deputy Art Mullen is a father figure one minute and a hardass sarcastic boss the next. Marshal Tim Gutterson is a deadshot marksman, a former Army Ranger Sniper, and a dry-humored brother-in-arms to Raylan. Deputy Marshal Rachel Brooks is an absolute spitfire. She’s a strong black woman that despite her stature, and constantly being surrounded by redneck white men, more than holds her own.
The fact this series has so many lovable characters, both good and bad, doesn’t detract from the series’s outstanding villains. Avery Markham, Robert Quarles, Mags Bennett, Danny Crowe, Ty Walker, Nicky Augustine, Bo Crowder, Dickie Bennett, the list goes on, are all formidable adversaries. They’re played by television veterans, and at times they feel larger than life. Watching Raylan try to outmaneuver them is always riveting.
The series is carried out perfectly from beginning to end. We’re introduced to all of the most beloved characters in the first 50 minutes, and we bear witness to their growths and/or downfalls over the next six years. We laugh and cry with them right up to the flawless ending. We live vicariously through them as they play out the cowboys vs outlaws lifestyles we imagined as kids. Most of all, we discover that shoot’em up westerns do exist in the Kentucky County of Harlan. Where their mouths are the only thing faster than their guns, and the killing is always Justified. 10/10
One of the best lines from the series.
The Men and Women behind the voices of Justified.
Elmore Leonard (Based on the novels by) - 78 Episodes (Although he passed away in 2013)
Graham Yost (Developed for Television by) - 78 Episodes
Ingrid Escajeda - 28 Episodes
Benjamin Cavell - 27 Episodes
Chris Provenzano - 22 Episodes
VJ Boyd - 18 Episodes
Dave Andron - 17 Episodes
Leonard Chang - 17 Episodes
Wendy Calhoun - 13 Episodes
Ryan Farley - 13 Episodes
Nichelle D. Tramble - 13 Episodes
Jon Worley - 13 Episodes
Taylor Elmore - 12 Episodes
Fred Golan - 11 Episodes
Keith Schreier - 4 Episodes
Gary Lennon, Benjamin Daniel Lobato, Jenny DeArmitt, Michael Dinner, Jennifer Kennedy - 1 Episode each