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Review: 'Justified' Packs Many Pleasures Into Its Second Season

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 9th 2011 1:45PM
TV critics say this a lot, but in the case of 'Justified' (10PM ET Wednesday, FX), it's really true: You can jump in to the second season of this show without having seen the first one.

Sure, once you dive in to season 2 of this distinctive drama, you may want to go back and watch the previous adventures of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). But it would pain me to think anyone would deny themselves the many pleasures of 'Justified' on the assumption that there's a grand mythology viewers must know before watching the show. That's not the case.

"You pull on me, I'll put you down." That's Raylan's simple philosophy, which he frequently shares with hard-luck lawbreakers and other desperate types.

The great thing about 'Justified' is that even though Raylan's worldview is pretty easy to summarize, the show in which he stars isn't even remotely simplistic or formulaic. 'Justified' manages to be both a loose, colorful evocation of the fictional world created by Elmore Leonard (the novelist who first gave life to Raylan) and a deceptively complex drama that manages to keep the audience guessing without being precious or off-putting.

I say "deceptively" because 'Justified' does not announce itself as a Serious Drama. This well-crafted show explores grand themes like regret, redemption and self-doubt, but one of its many strengths is that it touches on those ideas with a light hand. If 'Justified' has an ambition, it's to entertain, and it does so by offering up funky stories that manage to be both digressive and energetic. Good television is about creating worlds and people viewers want to spend time with, and on that score, 'Justified' is an unqualified success.

Some fans of the show's first season may think I'm giving short shrift to what transpired then, which isn't my intention. If this is your first go-round with 'Justified,' you should know that Raylan was unwillingly transferred to the Kentucky U.S. Marshal's office, and though he's willingly sticking around these days, he still tends to get in a number of shoot-outs. (In his mind, they're always, yes, justified.)

He's also got a difficult but not entirely antagonistic past with local troublemaker Boyd Crowder, who is played with terrific subtlety by Walton Goggins. Last season, Crowder said he found God and tried to go straight, but even he doesn't appear to know what he believes anymore. A ferocious energy radiates from Boyd: Who knows whether it's anger, despair or some other blend of potent emotions. Whatever fuels his energy, the languid yet intense Boyd is the perfect counterbalance to Raylan, who carries himself with an old-fashioned sincerity and politeness but also simmers with unresolved conflicts.

The show would be worth watching for those two performances alone, but 'Justified' adds to its riches in season 2. Margo Martindale joins the cast as Mags Bennett, the quietly charismatic leader of a Kentucky clan with deep roots in the pot-growing trade. Martindale is such a crafty, resourceful performer that I could listen to her not-so-sweetly call Raylan a "federal" all day long, but given more challenging material, the actress rises to the occasion and then some.

The trick for 'Justified' in its second season won't necessarily revolve around balancing standalone and serialized stories: The show seems to have a good handle on how to manage that in the early going of season 2. No, the challenge will be giving all of its characters something worthwhile to do while expanding the worlds of Harlan and Lexington even further.

Several supporting characters were underserved in the first season, despite fine performances from Nick Searcy as Raylan's boss, Art Mullins, Erica Tazel as Deputy Marshal Rachel Brooks and Jacob Pitts as Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson. And in a recent interview, executive producer Graham Yost promised that there would be more substantial story lines for Raylan's ex-girlfriend, Ava (Joelle Carter) and ex-wife, Winona (Natalie Zea).

I'm also hoping the show's writers came up with great material for two more additions to the cast, the always watchable Jeremy Davies of 'Lost' as Mags' son Dickie, and Kaitlyn Dever as Loretta McCready, a whip-smart young girl who figures prominently in the season premiere.

'Justified' is the kind of show that makes me greedy: I want more of all my favorite characters, I want more shaggily twisty plots, I want more left-of-center dialogue and I want to spend ever more time in the lived-in towns and hollers that Raylan visits. So really, the solution is to make each episode two hours long. That should be easy, right?

For that interview with 'Justified' executive producer Graham Yost, look here. It doesn't contain spoilers.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I'm not sure I agree totally with your comment about missing out on season 1. Yes theoretically you could begin at season 2 but you'd miss the history of the characters, especially Raylan's. Of course there is the matter of the episodes concerning The Church and exactly how our characters found themselves in the situation season 2 begins with.

It's not so much mythology but one or two interesting back stories which might not get repeated in season 2.

I really do enjoy this show and didn't know if I would to be honest. After giving it a few episodes in I'm a fan of Raylan and Co. How scary is Mags? I'm not messing with that woman!

February 10 2011 at 9:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Nelson

I've been looking forward to this, well, ever since the end of season 1. I can't wait. And BTW, if you missed season 1, or if you just want to relive it, the DVD is only $19.99 ($24.49 for blu-ray) at Amazon.

February 09 2011 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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