The Angriest Men in the World
by ELEANOR MORROW
creator Graham Yost
No one can be a hard ass all the time. In Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant did a damn good job of trying. In one of the show's most famous episodes, he lost his son and stayed relatively calm. Now he's on a new show and he doesn't even have a son but he still seems pretty angry.
Deadwood was the greatest western done in the television medium, although both Lonesome Dove and Bonanza had their moments. It was usually described as "dark," and while the various indignities the show detailed including sexually transmitted diseases, the death of young children, the murder of several innocents, and the prostitution of almost everyone, it was an optimistic show for the protagonist, Seth Bullock, and his Jewish partner. Bullock didn't just survive on the frontier, he thrived from the first and became the ethical master of all that surrounded him.
The Honolulu-born Olyphant's face is itself a swarming projectile. Pauline Kael would have loved him. Desperate to make Justified slightly different from his last show — set 100 years earlier — he's grown a washed-out goatee and now scrunches his face up over 50 percent more often. Tim's never been much of an actor, but there's something new inside the ludicrously-named Raylan Givens.
Of course, Deadwood had the magical advantage of an ensemble cast to die for, with the best ever roles of Ian McShane, Keith Carradine, and scores of other thespians. Raylan Givens is not quite as lucky, although Raymond J. Barry, M.C. Gainey and Nick Searcy might be recognizable to insomniacs. They did bring back W. Earl Brown, who played Al Swearengen's brilliant second-in-command but Keith Carradine probably died the same moment his character on Dexter did, and Ian McShane is probably in a home somewhere. The leftovers pop up on Justified from time to time.
The best writers in television wrote Tim's banter then, now it is supplied by the spiritual descendants of Elmore Leonard, whose story "Fire in the Hole" supplied the inspiration for Justified. Leonard is the type of writer who thinks a person whose name doesn't reflect how they look (think a giant named Tiny) is a worthy substitute for actual perceptiveness. Creator Graham Yost is attempting a weekly return to the kind of moments Leonard was fastidious about creating — a woman in the trunk of a car, a man in a women's dressing room, the love of a good hat.
Leonard tried to make his cops as entertaining as the criminals he clearly loved better, and Justified has Raylan Givens relate better to people who live in a moral vaccuum than his ostensible colleagues. The portrayals of the criminals are invariably sexist, as was always Elmore Leonard's wont, and they take up a lot of the show's time — Raylan's soap-ish personal problems are sacrificed to the ongoing pursuit of justice, usually for himself or someone he's putting his penis inside of. Raylan is not a very good U.S. marshal, but he does have uncanny accuracy with a sidearm and a passion for passive-aggressive widows.
Despite the show's predilection for convenient criminal intrigue ("the loan shark with the heart of gold! the real estate agent in with the wrong people!"), it has created three great villains, and all Olyphant has to do is play off of them.
The first of these evil charlatans is Raylan's ex-wife Winona. (She is the only person in Kentucky named Winona without a sense of humor, evidently.) When Raylan unwillingly returned to his ancestral home in the show's premiere, he paid a visit to the house of his ex-wife and her new husband, waiting in the dark with a Miller Lite. She told him he was the angriest man she's ever known and refused to apologize for going with a Jew the second time around. (Didn't this also happen in Hung? Is the new Jewish caricature to seduce midwestern housewives?) Fittingly, Hung's Natalie Zea plays Raylan's ex-wife. She looks like a very respectable blowfish.
Raylan's second enemy is the Crowders, father Bo (M.C. Gainey) and son Boyd (Walter Goggins), paragons of white supremacy. It always feels better after you kill someone if you rip open their shirt and see some kind of tribute to Adolf Hitler, or anything from Twilight. No one knows this better than Raylan, who is constantly waiting to spring into violence no matter how placid the surroundings. White supremacy feels topical again for some reason, and the Crowders are a disturbing mix of religious men and demons.
The last of the villains is Raylan's own father Arlo Givens, a career criminal who spent years in business with drug cartels. The show sets up future episodes in a rather routine fashion, and Raylan's father looms large, as the highlight of the first season so far has been the long con his father and stepmother ran on him. Seeing Raylan so vulnerable reminded me of a bear with an ingrown toenail.
The proliferation of dramas on cable has allowed for some different types of storytelling. Justified wants to be darker than dark, but it's afraid of showing the audience dirt poor Kentucky for fear they won't be able to enjoy the finer things, and men. We are told Raylan is very angry, but we can't see that in him yet. It's early, though, and there are things out there in the dark we can't imagine.
"Bye Bye Icarus (alternate version)" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)
"Island (Bedroom demo)" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)
"Madame Van Damme" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)