The first season of Justified proved itself to be the coolest show on television last year, bringing some of the classic Old West themes and ideas crashing into present day Kentucky in the form of super-cool, gun-slinging US Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). The character of Raylan Givens, and indeed the plot of the pilot episode, were devised by one of America’s most legendary crime-fiction writers; Elmore Leonard.
On a gloriously sunny morning in London, CultBox were treated to a premiere of the first episode of Justified‘s second season, which launches on 5USA later this month, and given the extra-special honour of a brief group Q&A session with Mr. Leonard himself.
Elmore Leonard is notoriously critical of the screen adaptations of his works (of which there are many), explaining that “when you get a screenplay of your own work back, you tend not to like it. Because it usually contains new words…”, but that was not the case with Justified. Developed by Graham Yost, who had the good sense to bring Leonard on board as a producer, the show strives to stay true to the hall-marks of Leonard’s writing; primarily, his gritty, authentic style and his aptitude for writing strong dialogue that sounds intensely realistic.
A lot of Leonard’s work might have once been deemed somewhat too gritty for television, and so Leonard had little interest in the format. But with the advent of cable, he’s much more receptive to the idea. “TV is getting good now with cable. It’s TV land. You can air anything. You can write it, and someone will air it.”
One of the main reasons Leonard seems at peace with Yost’s adaptation is in the casting of Olyphant as the hero. As Leonard explains, “Olyphant is able to deliver the lines in exactly the way that I heard them in my head when I wrote them”. The only other actor he reserves such high praise for is George Clooney, who starred in another Leonard adaptation; Steven Soderbergh film Out Of Sight. Leonard was also impressed with the way the entire cast took to the Southern accent that is so prevalent in Kentucky. He’s not wrong; the accent is delivered perfectly by the entire cast, and the thick southern drawl somehow helps the dialogue shine even brighter, and suits the relaxed confidence of Givens character perfectly. Indeed, Olyphant seems to have been blessed by the acting gods, having now found a second role that he was seemingly born to play (the first being Sherriff Seth Bullock in Deadwood.)
At 85 years of age, Leonard could be forgiven for wanting to sit back and enjoy retirement, but his passion for writing remains unquenched – provided it’s in book form. He has recently completed a new Raylan Givens book, and reveals that some elements of that new story will be incorporated into an episode of the new series. While he leaves the show-running to Yost, and the scripts to proper screen-writers, Leonard is still somewhat eager to contribute his works. “If my name is going to be up there on every episode [as Producer] and I’m getting paid for it, then I feel like I should do something!” But that something definitely won’t involve much screen-writing it seems. “Screenwriting.” he exclaims, jadedly. “I don’t wanna do it. It’s work! Writing books is fun.”
As for the new series of Justified itself, it’s off to a great start in the episode previewed. Where the first season had some teething troubles, mostly in getting the balance between stand-alone stories and the wider, serialised story-arc right, there are no such worries here. Givens, after mopping up the aftermath of last season’s finale, is tasked with tracking down a known sex-offender who has kidnapped a young girl, while also running into the Bennett family, who may or may not be looking to replace the Crowders from season one.
The Bennett’s make an instant impact, especially the matriarch Mags (Margo Martindale), who is at once cuddly, loyal and likable, yet cold, cruel, manipulative and amoral. She’s a commanding presence, and may prove even more of an adversary than Bo Crowder did last season. As well as the Bennetts, Raylan is still having to deal the ramifications of his cavalier attitude towards shooting people (even if he is justified!), as well as juggling the twin affections of both local girl Ava and ex-wife Winona, not to mention his sometime friend, sometime nemesis Boyd Crowder (the superb Walton Goggins), who may have become even more of a wildcard than ever…
As cop shows go (and remember, while Givens may be a US Marshall, this is more akin to a Western than The Wire), Justified is funnier, sexier, more realistic and down-right cooler than pretty much anything else on television. After one episode, the second season already seems more assured than the first. The show has a better sense of itself, and a better grip on the standalone vs. serialised problem, and even manages to find the time to include and explore the characters that were largely marginalised in the first season. With terrific performances from Olyphant, Goggins and Martindale, the show appears to be going from strength to strength. Justified doesn’t bear the exceptionally rare Elmore Leonard stamp of approval for nothing!
Season 2 Episode 1 airs at 10pm on Wednesday 20th April 2011 on 5USA.