Thursday, June 24, 2010

Justified on FX: The Slow Burn

I started watching Justified for the exact same reasons I started watching Sons of Anarchy (another show on FX); it had a cast I admired and it was free on Hulu. Unlike Sons of Anarchy, Justified initially had the feel of a procedural show: there's a different redneck crime every week, from which we learn a little bit more about the core characters and their past. But somewhere halfway through the season that formula drifts away. Eventually the characters and the rising tensions between them take center stage, and that's where this show delivers.

Compared to Sheriff Bullock on Deadwood, Marshall Raylan Givens seems almost light-hearted. Both are played by Timothy Olyphant, who's got a knack for portraying steely lawmen who tend to get too caught up in their own righteousness.

Walton Goggins steals the show as Boyd Crowder, a character who proves to be more complex than I first assumed. Spending his life living in the shadow of his crime-lord father (played by M.C. Gainey, a bear of a man best known as Tom Friendly on Lost), Crowder ends up in prison after blowing up a church with a rocket launcher. Once he's out, he claims to have found Jesus and quickly amasses several misfit followers, promising to lead them to their salvation through actions like blowing up his father's meth labs. Does he want to take over the family business, or does he truly want to purge his town of it's poisons? In the kick ass season finale, Boyd himself admits he might not even be sure.

A few similarities can be drawn between this show and Sons of Anarchy: both have redneck villains, both deal with outlaws and crime families, etc. More interestingly, they both display a "slow burn" approach to television that you don't see very often. They take their time warming up, but steadily build to a raging fire. Characters are casually set up and played off each other, inching the plot along, until you don't realize you're actually neck-deep in it.

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