The Get the Chance team share some of their favourite binge-watch series they have been enjoying during Lockdown. First up Kevin Johnson with Justified.
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Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a hitman while both are sitting in a Miami rooftop bar, the latest of many such incidents. Although the shooting is considered ‘justified’ by the authorities, as a punishment he is reassigned to his home state of Kentucky, a move he considers a demotion. There he’s forced to face his past, including his ex-wife Winona (for whom he still has feelings), his estranged criminal father Arlo (for whom he doesn’t), and his old friend, and crime family kingpin, Boyd Crowder (for whom?).
While ostensibly a crime show, Justified is also a modern take on the western, as well as a psychological drama. The characters are rarely either completely good or bad, with relatives and friends on both sides of the law. They’re living in a state that is poor, jobs are scarce but drugs aren’t, and corruption is rife. To show how morally confused things are, in one story Loretta, a teenage girl, outwits a sexual predator, who is an enforcer for the crime family that also employ her & her father to grow cannabis for them.
An excellent cast is well-served by superb writing that not only conveys believable characters, but has a rich vein of laconic wit running through it. At one point Raylan, after warning a criminal about trying to kill him, punches him to the floor, drops a bullet on his chest, and remarks “next one’s coming faster”. To a snitch too scared of another criminal to talk, he says “You think you’re scared of him? You got no idea what you can expect from me.”
Nor is he the only one to be given good dialogue. About to be shot by a member of the Bennett clan over a family feud, he’s told ominously “this bullet’s been on its way for 20 years.”.
While Raylan is terse, Boyd Crowder is all Southern charm, whether he’s trying to relate to someone or about to shoot a rival criminal. There’s a bond between the two from when they worked in the mines:”we dug coal and drank beer together”, as Raylan puts it. He joined the Marshals and Boyd enlisted in the army and served in Iraq, both trying to get away. Both failed.
Despite being the ‘hero’, Raylan is actually a tragic figure, often his own worst enemy. His boss Art, a father-figure to him, driven to exasperation by his actions says at one point “you’re a great lawman but a lousy Marshal”. Brooks, a black female Marshal, also tells him that he wouldn’t get away with such behaviour if he weren’t white, male, and handsome, which given that this was said in 2013 was a little ahead of its time.
There are also many layers to the storyline, and events often take place without Raylan’s participation or knowledge. One of the best scenes is in a diner where his Aunt Helen is meeting with Mags, the head of the Bennett family. What seems like a simple chat over a coffee is actually a parlay between the matriarchs of two warring families, both trying to negotiate a peace treaty before there is more bloodshed. It’s subtle, but almost Shakespearean in its execution.
Each series also features a new antagonist, as well as recurring characters, and it helps to keep the show fresh. The scope also varies from Kentucky to Florida to California, as well as Mexico, which feature memorable figures who may or may not turn up again.
Despite it being a great series overall, I was disappointed that the characters of Tim Gutterson, a former army Ranger, & Rachel Brooks, a black female Marshal, colleagues of Raylan’s, are not really developed over six series, despite both being fascinating. But with so many others in the cast, that’s understandable.
The show was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, who got the idea for it after meeting a young man at a book convention in Amarillo, Texas. When finding out that the man’s name was Raylan, Leonard asked him, “How would you like to be the star of my next book?”.
One more thing, Raylan always wears a white hat. Whether this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to him being the hero, I don’t know. As he says himself when asked about it: “I tried it on and it fit”.
If you’re looking for a good drama with plenty of action, but also one with a lot more depth than your average shoot-em-up, this is the show for you.