TV on DVD: Justified: The Complete First Season
The flavor of Elmore Leonard drips from every episode
No, it took TV for him to hone back in to a character suited to his strengths, first as an undercover cop with a crisis of conscience on the second season of "Damages" and now with "Justified," appropriately once again as a Marshall in a kind of western. Based on Elmore Leonard’s short story "Fire in the Hole," it casts Olyphant as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, a lawman with a frontier approach to justice. The pilot opens with Raylan threatening to shoot a drug lord and then menacing (with a hard, challenging smile) him to draw first. That's Raylan's idea of a “justified” shooting, but the Florida office doesn't see it that way and they drop him back into Kentucky, to the hometown he thought he had escaped for good.
His new boss (Nick Searcy, a sharp leader with a laid-back manner) isn’t exactly thrilled with his arrival—Raylan’s daddy (Raymond J. Barry) is a local hood and his old buddy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins of "The Shield"), a former coal miner turned explosive expert and gun runner, is currently masterminding a reign of terror in town (no wonder Raylan left home)—but he has a wary affection for this charmer of a cowboy lawman. Even when he ends up blowing a major case by dating the chief witness, the adorable, honey-smoked local beauty (and widow of a rural crime family figure) Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). Just to complicate matters, Raylan’s ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) works for the D.A.
Graham Yost developed the show, adapting Leonard's story for the pilot and then expanding the story as the series spins off from that point, and credit goes to Yost for bringing Leonard on board as an executive producer. The credit must more than honorary because his sensibility infuses the show, from the bad decisions that humanize (and at times sabotage) Raylan to the complicated relationships that tend to perplex his life to the mesmerizing odyssey of Boyd Crowder, from terrorist in a white-supremacist organization to prison preacher to evangelical cult leader with an army of former convicts waging war against the backwoods drug trade. The question of whether his conversion is genuine or cunning ploy adds to the dramatic tension and the enigma of the character, but Goggins plays him with the passion of a true believer: an avenging angel using the tools of his past and a scorched-earth campaign of redemption.
Well written, superbly cast and anchored by the effortlessly magnetic Olyphant, this contemporary western of family grudges, backwoods meth labs and interstate crime deals in rural Kentucky pairs up nicely with the other great genre gumbo on FX, "Sons of Anarchy." And it’s the best role and richest character that Olyphant has played since "Deadwood," one that leans on his easy manner, his lanky physicality and his slow-burn intensity. Raylan Givens is a man with his share of flaws and bad decisions, but you never question his dedication and you never underestimate his commitment. It gets my vote as best new show of 2010.
New episodes begin in February so this release gives you plenty of time to catch up with (or revisit) the show before the second season debut.
13 episodes on three discs on both DVD (in a box set of two thinpak cases) and Blu-ray (in an extra-wide case with a hinged tray), with cast and crew commentary on four episodes. The pilot commentary alone, by executive producer/episode writer Graham Yost, director Michael Dinner and actor Nick Searcy, is more interesting and informative than the last three feature film commentaries I worked through as part of my reviewing duties. The 18-minute “What Would Elmore Do?” leads us through the process of scripting the show, from adapting Elmore Leonard’s original short story to expanding the characters and carrying on the story, while maintaining Leonard’s voice and sensibility. The shorter featurettes “The Story of Justified” and “Justified: Meet the Characters” are more conventional introductions to the show and the characters.