Sunday, 22 May 2011

Justified series 2 with Timothy Olyphant

Big shot – Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Gives. Pics: Channel 5
Rating ★★★★

5USA, Wednesdays, 10pm

It's good to be tipping our Stetsons to deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens again.

All the winning ingredients of series one are back in the current season of Justified on 5USA. Timothy Olyphant is as softly-spoken and laid back as ever, though having to hold off on his notorious trigger finger, having blown away so many drug dealers, mobsters and his dad last time round. He's resolved to stay in Harlan County, Kentucky, the home to which he was banished after a lethal shootout in Florida.

Natalie Zea as Winona Hawkins
Natalie Zea is also here again as Winona, the ex-wife from whom Raylan is not so estranged. And Nick Searcy provides more sharp-tongued guidance as Raylan's boss, Art Mullen.

What is new is the appearance of the ruthless Bennett clan. Where executive producer/writer Elmore Leonard – the bard of crime authors on whose short story Justified is based – specialises in bone-headed baddies, the head of the Bennetts is one of his more menacing characters.

Good old gal Mags Bennett
Played by Margo Martindale, Mags Bennett appeared in the opener of series two as a mumsy, hospitable old Southern gal. But her unsavoury sideline as a poisoner soon revealed the real Mags.

For fans of Elmore Leonard, whose superb novels have not always been beautifully adapted (the TV versions of Pronto, Maximum Bob and the Out of Sight character, Karen Sisco, in particular, all bit the dust), the delight to be had in Justified is that the author's brand of cool has made it to the screen.

That is no doubt because Leonard is actively involved in the series, which is made by FX and has been given the nod for a third season. The 85-year-old writer is keen to get the details just right, such as Raylan's hat, and seems to treat the show as a favourite child, blogging about it and plugging it when he can.

Elmore Leonard's new Raylan novel
Its success has also inspired him to turn his 46th novel into another story about Raylan, some of the plotlines of which have found their way into season two. This will be Raylan's fourth appearance in Leonard's output. Fire in the Hole was the novella that sparked Justifed, while Raylan has also appeared in Pronto and Riding the Rap.

Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and brother-in-law Boyd (Walton Goggins)
The new novel, which could be out in the autumn, pits three women up against Raylan – a corrupt nurse, a woman who works for a coal company, and a poker player – with some of these themes, though not the nurse, being used in series two.

Timothy Olyphant, a surprising 43, must be stoking up a breakthrough Hollywood movie role soon with his charismatic lead performance here (after bits and pieces in Die Hard 4.0, The Girl Next Door and the like). He makes a smooth Elmore Leonard hero, and following his showings in Deadwood and his recent guest appearances in the US version of The Office, he clearly can pull off the George Clooney trick of being sexy and funny.

And humour is the final winning ingredient in Justified.  So you get…
  • Karl Hanselman: Next time you're in Cincinatti, come by my gallery. I'll show you my collection.
  • Raylan Givens: Honestly, I think I'd rather stick my dick in a blender.
  • Art Mullen: Well, that might solve a few problems.
The Bennetts v the Crowders
Raylan may have largely kept his powder dry in the opening episodes of series two, but with financially-troubled Winona about to commit a rash act, Boyd making enemies and a massive showdown to come between the Bennetts and Crowders, fans don't have to worry about peace breaking out in Harlan County any time soon.

Justified may not reinvent the crime-show genre, but the acting, writing and setting make it stand out like a 10-gallon hat.

It's currently showing on 5USA in the UK, and you can catch up with series two on the channel's site.