Nestled in the warm embrace of cable, FX has become an unexpected source of gritty, high-quality dramas, a trend that began in 2002 with "The Shield." One of the most recent FX products is the series "Justified," which just started its second season on Wednesday nights.
Based on an Elmore Leonard story (and with Leonard on as executive producer), Justified follows the adventures of US Marshal Raylan Givens ("Deadwood" alum Timothy Olyphant, who was so great as Sherriff Bullock). In the first season Givens got shipped from the Miami office back to his native Kentucky following a shootout with a drug enforcer. Well, actually, it wasn't so much a shootout as an execution: Raylan walked up to the table, told the enforcer that he had thirty seconds to leave or Raylan would shoot him, then did just that when the dude tried to pull out his own gun.
Givens is a modern-day cowboy, with his steely eye, fast hand, and Stetson. Olyphant plays him with a deep well of barely-contained rage; in the first episode his ex-wife Winona (the great Natalie Zea) wryly and wearily tells him he's the angriest man she's ever known, and she ain't wrong. For her it's as exhausting as it is enticing, but for the viewer it's absolutely thrilling to sit there, waiting for this guy to go off again.
He's got ample opportunity for that, with the host of dangerous types waiting to welcome him back to the bosom of Kentucky. His father Arlo and former mining buddy Boyd Crowder are standouts; last season's arc dealt with the tangled web of meth that involved both those men. They've yet to make an appearance this season (besides a brief glimpse of Boyd) but we've already met the Big Bad for this year: Mags Bennett, a reefer-growing grocery store owner. When first we meet her she acts like a down-homesy little old lady (albeit with pot), but at the end of the episode she poisons a man in cold blood without dropping the aw-shucks veneer. The characters are always a strong point on this series, and I can't wait to see how the saga between Mz. Bennett and Raylan will play out.
The female characters are especially fun to watch, which is a delightful surprise given that it's essentially a modern-day cowboy story. The show's even managed to pass the Bechdel Test in more episodes than not. The premiere heavily featured Rachael Brooks (Erica Tazel), Raylan's fellow Marshal in the Kentucky office, who got a couple of great moments showing that she's just as much of a badass. I personally hope to see much more of Winona, Raylan's ex-wife: the two of them have crackling, rapid-fire chemistry.
If you've never caught the series, watch an episode and prepare to be sucked in by the sharp dialogue and interesting characters. And just because I'll use any excuse to post this clip, here's one of the greatest moments of Deadwood, or television, period.