The Simple TV Pleasures of "Justified" Will be Missed
Once upon a time, a few years ago, I woke up, made myself a cup of coffee, flipped open the laptop and started reading a review of the previous night’s episode of Workaholics. After two or three sips a light bulb exploded inside my brain: why the fuck am I wasting 85 seconds of my precious (sic) time reading this — a question you dearest reader are probably already asking yourself. There is no grand social commentary or deep themes about the human condition in Workaholics. There are no Dharma Initiative film reels to decode frame-by-frame or jokes hiding as Easter Eggs in the background.
Either the antics of Adam, Blake and Ders pretending to be birthday clowns made me laugh or they didn’t. The end.
That said, television recaps are fun to read and often useful. Every Monday in the spring I like to read what Ty has to say about the previous night’s episode of Mad Men because he’s much more intelligent than me and better at picking out the thematic details that series creator Mathew Weiner is trying to tell us about 20th century American culture. (And what Monday is complete without Stephen and Mike teaming up to deliver the best damn Game of Thrones recap on the web?)
Sometimes — a lot more than often — television shows are just television shows. Not everything on TV is trying to tell layered, nuanced tales about the perils of modern life or human existence. In short, the vast majority of television isn’t The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Louie or whatever critically-lauded “prestige” show you want to highlight as an example. Nor are they all shows like Lost, which actually needed recaps and whatnot due to the vast mystery and never-ending mythology created over its six-season run. (What was that foot statue again?)
This brings me to Tuesday night, when Justfied returned for its final season on FX. The adventures of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder straddle that fine line between prestige and pulp, but mostly lean toward the latter. And you know what, that’s perfectly all right and actually a good thing.
For instance, Tuesday’s premiere included a scene before the credits roll where Raylan backs his car into a moving vehicle to stop it from getting away. Then a searing guitar riff plays as Raylan walks over, tilts his head and delivers a perfect one-liner to the driver. Scene!
Sometimes that’s all you want in a television show — turn it on, sit back and enjoy yourself for an hour or so, forgetting about all the other hells in your life (and then amusing yourself with your favorite GIFs at work the next day). With Justified that’s easy, because it’s fun spending those 45 minutes with the actors and characters involved, regardless of how repugnant they’d be in real-life. (Yeah he’s “cool” on screen, but Raylan’s a selfish dickhead most of the time, so there’s a reason he doesn’t exactly have any friends, rather co-workers who tolerate his me-first tendencies.)
The over-reaching plot of Justified? Beats me. The 40-second recap before the premiere didn’t come close to reminding me of all that happened the previous season, but that didn’t matter much. Once Raylan began swaggering around that Mexican bar and bemoaning how it lacked bourbon, my mind was already on auto-pilot.
Justified‘s plots are often unnecessarily dense and complex with endless double-crosses, but it doesn’t matter much. The good guys are mostly good and the bad guys are mostly bad. Things happen. Characters come and go. The law (sometimes) is applied when it fits the plotting.
And if you think back, originally Justified was planned out to be more a case-of-the-week type show. Remember in Season 1 when Raylan tracks down the crooked dentist played by Cameron from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off? Even Boyd was supposed to die after the first episode, as laid out in the Elmore Leonard short-story “Fire in the Hole” on which the show is based. Audiences quickly latched onto the characters of Harlan County and it became a serial, which is for the better. Along the way we met the Bennetts, the Crowes, Ellstin Limestone, Drew Thompson, Wynn Duffy and countless other fantastic characters including one played by Eric Roberts along with, oddly, former Nickelodeon Guts host Mike O’Malley as an enforcer from Detroit.
The characters, week-in, week-out make Justified and if you were a “character actor” this decade and didn’t appear on the show at least once — fire your agent.
[Side tangent: Maybe you’ve heard some buzz about the BBC/Netflix show Peaky Blinders. I watched the first season around New Year’s and it’s a show that leans more toward the Justified vein. On the surface it looks like a prestigious THIS IS IMPORTANT television show, but really it’s just a very stylized cops-and-robbers show without any great themes at work, other than in Peaky Blinders you clearly root for the bad guys (Cillian Murphy, et al.) over the “good” guys (Sam Neill). Although it’s quite enjoyable to watch, I’m not sure anything that transposes the music of the Arctic Monkeys with 1920s Birmingham, England beatdowns is all that important. As noted across the Interwebs, if you take the Peaky plunge, use the subtitles.]
Sometimes, from a blogging perspective, everyone falls into the habit of needing to project that every single piece of media needs to represent more than it actually is in reality, churning it into content. “Thinkpieces” are what we call them, as they are the yang to the “hot takes” yin, or something. (Again, I’m not that smart or that good of a writer.)
Blessedly, you don’t have to think very much to enjoy Justified each week. It’s a fun, enjoyable television show, no more, no less. If you wake up in the morning knowing that Raylan, Art, Boyd, Ava, Rachel, Tim etc. are waiting for you at the end of the day, maybe your Tuesday is a little bit better. When it’s run completes in April, it will be missed.
And if you want something from the Justified world that will make you think or challenge your world view, (SPOILER warning) the actor who plays Dewey Crowe is Australian.