Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Justified, "Fire in the Hole": Bazooka Boyd

I reviewed "Justified" in today's column, but I'll have a few specific thoughts on the pilot episode coming up just as soon as I put out an APB on Cab Calloway...
"You make me pull, I put you down." -Raylan Givens
Because "Fire in the Hole" was already an Elmore Leonard short story, Graham Yost had a lot of the hard part done for him going into writing the pilot. Much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book - and you can usually tell when it's not(*) - as is most of the plot. Some tweaks are made for the sake of this being an ongoing series - Givens' dad is now a criminal (in the story he was another coal miner), and Raylan goes against his code by letting Boyd live (which means Walton Goggins can return) - but most of this is pure Leonard, and rightly so.

(*) I like Yost a lot, but he does have a tendency to hit the audience over the head with certain thematic points, whether it was Speirs telling Lipton "Hell, it was you, 1st Sergeant!" at the end of Yost's famous "The Breaking Point" episode of "Band of Brothers," or here Givens' ex-wife Winona telling him "You do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don't see it, but honestly? You are the angriest man I've ever known." That makes a nice promo moment and all, but honestly? When you cast Timothy Olyphant, the anger isn't just implied, it's so overt that no one should ever discuss it like it's some big secret or revelation.

Because Olyphant is who he is and does what he does, and because the part of Givens fits him so well, a lot of the fun of the series comes from seeing how cops and crooks alike with more contemporary attitudes react to this walking, shooting throwback to a very different time. The scene in and then outside Ava's house, where poor Dewey Crowe was completely baffled by Givens (and got a busted nose for underestimating him), was one of the pilot's highlights. (Right after FX first picked up the show, back when it was still called "Lawman," that was the scene they showed the critics to give us a sense of how cool it would be; that was a very good call.)

This isn't quite a one-man show, though, and I liked what little we saw of some of the other regular and recurring players: Nick Searcy as the only kind of boss who could probably tolerate Raylan long-term, Joelle Carter as unapologetically homicidal Ava and Jacob Pitts (also currently playing Hoosier in "The Pacific") and Erica Tazel as the two junior but capable members of the team.

And Walton Goggins just chewed up the meal that was Boyd Crowder, didn't he? Not the subtlest of performances (certainly as compared to some of his late work on "The Shield"), but like the rest of "Justified, a lot of fun.

What did everybody else think?

47 comments:

Abe said...

I'm a big Deadwood/Shield/Sons of Anarchy guy so it went without saying that I loved it.

Alan, can you talk much about the later episodes? Is Walton Goggins character going to be a regular?

Marc said...

I was looking forward to this premiere since I heard about it, but something didn't click for me. I like Olyphant and I like the premise, but I just wasn't sucked in. It occurs to me now that it might be hard to be engrossed in a show that aired right after a S6 Lost episode. I am curious if anyone else experienced this phenomenon. I am not sure if it will be a live watch every week for me, but I will certainly DVR it.

Germ said...

I really liked it, but, like with White Collar, it's hard when airing right after Lost. I think I'll just have to watch this and Lost again as I couldn't really concentrate on anything tonight.

ks said...

Think you summed it up quite well in saying that because of who Olyphant is and what he does...watching the other characters react is the crux here.

I pass on many TV shows--Mad Men is the only one I really watch--and I loved this.

Anything Leonard-related usually appeals to me, and this was no exception.

Thought it had some of the same excitement and fun found in early Sopranos, but Olyphant and his character are more interesting than Gandolfini/Tony.

Tom M said...

I told myself I was going into this show with no expectations, but I must've unconsciously had some because I came away underwhelmed. That's not to say it was bad, because it wasn't bad...and I'll keep coming back for now because I like Olyphant and because I saw potential for some good stuff once we hopefully get into the meat and potatoes of the series.


One thing that did drive me a little nuts, and I don't know if this fits under being "hit over the head with certain thematic points", was that seemingly every person Raylan comes into contact with asks him if he's been to see his father yet. Clearly the point is supposed to be there's some unresolved issues/strife there, and maybe I'm an angrier person than he's supposed to be, but by the time it got to, like, the 3rd or 4th person asking me, I'd either have bitten their head off for asking or just gone to see him already.

All in all, I'll definitely watch again, but I just wasn't quite feeling "the hook" based off of tonight's effort.

Paul said...

An excellent use of Google Maps by the California based writing team. The locations were smartly chosen and looked very eastern Kentucky. Olyphant needs to work on that accent though. The accent of the boss was on the money. Most Kentuckians use a rhotic dialect with hard Rs. Hell, some folks throw Rs in words that don't even have them. "Worsh" instead of "wash" drives me up a tree.

Craig Ranapia said...

That makes a nice promo moment and all, but honestly?

Honestly, Elmore Leonard would scratch out anything that on the nose with the needle-sharp point of the freshly sharpened blue pencil.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, you "Lost" people really need to get over yourselves. Oh, I can't watch another show after it! How do you sleep? How do you eat? How do you function. Give me a break. And the day Elmore Leonard is ripping off a Steven Segal film is the day we all deserve to be marooned on a desert island.

Great frigging show. The constant juxtapositions of understatement/violence and friends/enemies make it work. And Goggins indeed eats it up.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, that'll be enough of that, Anonymous (if, indeed, that is your real name). Talk about the show, not each other.

Hoosier Paul said...

Awesome show. Definitely one I'll be DVRing each week. Though, as a former resident of the Kentucky Appalachias, I kept getting distracted by the total absence of mountains (in the Harlan scenes, not the Lexington scenes). Every time you could see the horizon, it was nothing but sky.

And, of course, the writers sort of acted like Harlan was right next to Lexington, when it's well over a two-hour drive away.

But I figure that with a movie industry centered on the West Coast, sometimes you just have to shrug that sort of thing off.

Anonymous said...

Intriguing first episode. There are great imagines, characters, concepts and locations that abound in this show. Don't know if they are all clicking yet but you can definitely see them the tools for success. I want to see this show about 7-8. "Sons of Anarchy" hit its stride about then once Kurt Sutter knew exactly the characters and tone he was working with.

I do wonder if this is going to be a "Burn Notice" type show, with many standalone episodes with a thin story arch connecting the season. Or will they push a more powerful mythology?

Def on the watchlist for now.

Yellowdog said...

I could watch Olyphant read a phonebook. And have. But I probably shouldn't talk about that.

And by the way, it may have looked like Kentucky but that episode was mostly filmed in the country outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

Henry said...

Even though I've seen the scene in an early preview of the show, I still love the showdown between Crowe (the neo-Nazi) and Raylen. I couldn't remember if, in the preview, Raylen pulled his gun so it was pretty effective in seeing it in context to the episode. I also like the genuine feel the show creates by scoring the episode to some cool Kentucky blues or country or something. Gives off the feel of a modern Western. I actually like Olyphant in this show more than the entire run of Deadwood, when he was Seth Bullock. Bullock could never really pull the trigger when presented with the opportunities and Raylen seems to want to pull the trigger, but WANTS to avoid it if possible.

Anonymous said...

Even though Goggins has the Oscar, he'll always be Cletus Van Damme to me.

Scott Tobias said...

So was it really so obvious that Raylan is an angry man? That last line struck me as a genuine revelation, not a nail-on-the-head confirmation of what we already know. To me, Olyphant projects such relaxed confidence and self-possession as Raylan that the violence he commits seemed, well, very much justified by his old-fashioned code of justice. Yes, there are some cracks in the facade-- his past is obviously coming back to haunt him in a myriad ways, and he's not entirely comfortable being back home as a consequence-- but he struck me as very much in control of his surface emotions. Is it possible that Olyphant's past roles are bleeding too much into your perception of this one? Or maybe I'm just not paying attention.

Yellowdog said...

I'm still waiting for somebody to make a movie where Olyphant can once again play the character he played in the movie A Perfect Getaway. He truly is an American Jedi.

Henry said...

I REALLY liked that firefight between the two hicks and the US Marshals. The Marshals are all calm and in control (helps that they have that arsenal in the trunk) and demonstrates their superior intelligence in a firefight situation. Bad guys can't hit nothin'...

Craig Ranapia said...

And, of course, the writers sort of acted like Harlan was right next to Lexington, when it's well over a two-hour drive away.

But I figure that with a movie industry centered on the West Coast, sometimes you just have to shrug that sort of thing off.


To be fair, Hoosier Paul, no place in Los Angeles is ever more than a crash cut away from any other. When narrative needs must, geography and the laws of nature can go spin. :)

cgeye said...

"... and all we've got is a rocket launcher."

Whoa.

And our antag's got a big-ass swastika on? Oh, we'll never see a anyone like Sean MacNamara on FX again, will we?

Teev said...

Oh that made me really happy.

You all critics loved it so much I was worried I'd be let down but that was a sweet slice of manly men doing manly things heaven.

I don't have alot of deep critical analysis to add here because I'm gonna rewatch the damn thing right now and I'm not sure that's how this show's gonna roll.

Teev said...

Oh and Scott Tobias I agree that Olyphant isn't projecting angry. I feel more like he's channeling Man With No Name (He's best when he's drawing on his inner Eastwood) with that laconic "whatever is happening is totally what I meant to happen" vibe.

Which is fine! Everyone has to have the world's darkest and most convoluted back story now and if Raylan doesn't that is fine!

Traffic said...

If series set in LA bothered to show just how long it takes to get from one place to another, let alone find a damn parking spot...well, I can't think of anything snappy, but they'd be longer. Oh yes, MUCH longer!

It's late...

Lynn said...

Alan - any ideas if/when/how it will be online?

Jason said...

Really good premiere. Had me hooked right from the opening scene (the slightly bizarre juxtiposition of Timothy Olyphant in cowboy hat in front of a blue, blue pool in Miami).

And I agree with Scott Tobias. He didn't seem obviously angry to me. Maybe seething underneath a dead calm exterior, but any anger wasn't breaking through much (save him smacking Dewey around, or blasting the shotgun inside the car when Dewey's partner in crime tries to lie about "just riding around.")

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is it possible that Olyphant's past roles are bleeding too much into your perception of this one?

Could be. Certainly, Olyphant's not as clenched here as he was on Deadwood. But when I watch a guy be that ready for violence and/or killing, even if he wraps it up in some moral code, I start saying to myself "That is one pissed-off marshal."

pluvlaw said...

Overall, I enjoyed the show, mainly thanks to the performances of the two main characters. If I had to pick what jumped out at me as bad, it was the criminal activity. I suppose I am used to the realistic crime protrayed by The Shield and The Wire that some of Boyd's antics just stuck out like a sore thumb.

I get the initial LAW shot into the church and why it happend that way: Boyd already knew he was going to kill his accomplice, so he did not share the guy's concern over ID'ing the car. But I found Boyd's actions as the getaway driver for the bank job ridiculous. First off, who drives their customed out dooley to commit a crime? Then, who parks it so that they have to turn around to take off? Uh...yeah, officer, They were driving a silver Chevy Dooley that had the mud-bogging trucker exhausts coming from the bed. That to me just seemed lazy. And one thing I have never felt The Shield or SOA was was lazy.

Second, I love Goggins, but I have a hard time rationalizing how they can believably bring him back into the show. Even if we forget the aforementioned moronic turn behind the getaway wheel, a gunshot to the torso would have to put him out of action for quite a while. And that's ignoring the fact that he put out a hit on an entire US Marshall office. Unless Goggin's future role is pulling strings somehow from behind bars, nothing else is going to make sense.

Having said all that, I really did like Olyphant and also enjoyed the characters they're able to put around him, the rednecks and bumpkins (probably b/c they hit close to home with me living in SC).

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean that Leonard ripped off a Steven Seagal movie (I don't know the timeline, so it's possible Seagal ripped off Leonard first) but I can't help it that this story seemed really familiar. Not bad, mind you, just familiar.

And if you're going to mention that your hat is old and weathered, you probably shouldn't use a hat that looks like you just bought it (sorry, after Alan's interview with Leonard I couldn't help but focus on Raylan's hat the whole time).

And after being so overt with some other points, I have to admit the last scene had me shaking my head. Raylan breaks in to his ex-wife's house in the middle of the night to tell her that story? I guess he did it trying to get confirmation from someone he trusted that he's a good man who did the right thing, but it seemed an odd way to reconnect with his ex and to serve as a bridge to the rest of the series.

Anonymous said...

Slow week in Eastern Kentucky.

-Eva kill her husband
-Church blown up
-Man murdered on bridge
-Armed bank robbery
-Five person gun battle outside hotel
-Suspect shot by Marshall in Eva's house

I'm mean come on... is this Eastern Kentucky or Afghanistan?

Daniel said...

There isn't a writer out there better at dialogue than Elmore Leonard. Especially dialogue between two characters. It's simple, it's crisp, it's accurate, it's a pleasure and a joy to read. I watched this show and Tivo'd Southland and for me and watched Southland later. No comparison. Justified seems contrived and typical with little in the way of surprise. It seems pedestrian to me. And of course the primary villain doesn't die in the pilot so we can have that relationship continue. I dunno, didn't work for me dog. Jeezzz.

Norgard said...

When you cast Timothy Olyphant, the anger isn't just implied, it's so overt that no one should ever discuss it like it's some big secret or revelation.

I thought the "big" revelation in that scene was that Givens was only now becoming aware of his anger issues. And in that respect I thought that moment worked very well.

As others have mentioned the show looks and sound fabulous. But apart from that I'm afraid I'm firmly in the "underwhelmed" camp. The whole thing felt like I was watching the cliff notes version. So Givens and Boyd used to be best buddies, they reunite, what, once in that church and next thing Boyd is putting out a hit on Givens? And why the hell is Mr Justified breaking into the home of his ex-wife in the middle of the night? How does that square with his code?

I think if this had been a feature - or at least had feature length - they could have developed the relationships more and made a really satisfying movie. As it is I might check in mid-season or so to see if they've gotten better, but for now I'll pass.

mwu said...

For what it's worth, I thought this was one of the five best pilots I've ever seen. It's impossible to enjoy the resonance of the plot threads in season 1 episode 1 alone, just as the first 10 minutes of a great film are rarely deeply satisfying on their own. But I've seen enough that I'm willing to give "Justified" a few more hours of my life.

(Other best pilots in my non-TV-critic life? "Shield", "Deadwood", "American Gothic" to start...)

Bryan Murray said...

I've tried to read a lot of Elmore Leonard and I really like most of his material but it's not all great. And all of his books contain larger-than-life characters and implausible story lines so I think Justified is embracing that - it's not going for realism as much as The Shield and SOA.

I really liked it but Alan's review did worry me a little; I hope it does not become too procedural. Loved Goggins (always rooted for Shane at the end) and I'm glad they kept him around.

The one treat that I didn't expect was for the local sheriffs to be so damn competent. As soon as they said Kentucky, I was expecting a bunch of hick cops with no brains at all. As Henry said above, the firefight was great in that it showed Raylen has some worthy co-workers.

I also could watch Olyphantastic read the phone book...

Anonymous said...

That makes a nice promo moment and all, but honestly?

But the point of that line had nothing to do with the fact that he's clearly got a lot of anger... the point is that he doesn't realize it. That he's so NUMB to his own anger that he seems genuinely surprised to have someone tell him how angry he is. *THAT* was great. It tells you a bit more about exactly what is going on in this guy's head and makes you wonder what exactly he's capable of because clearly, the only thing separating him from the "bad guys" he's after is the fact that he's got the law on his side. In theory.

Craig Ranapia said...

There isn't a writer out there better at dialogue than Elmore Leonard. Especially dialogue between two characters. It's simple, it's crisp, it's accurate, it's a pleasure and a joy to read.

I don't disagree with you at all, Daniel, but I guess I'm inclined to cut the writers here a lot of slack because Leonard's so-called "naturalistic" dialogue is nothing of the kind. It is, at its best, every bit as much a work of intricate workmanship (and shiny artifice) as a Faberge Easter egg.

There are plenty of writers out there who've build whole careers on Elmore Leonard pastiches, I would rest easy if 'Justified' doesn't go too far down that road.

Oaktown Girl said...

Being a pretty avid follower of all things with a Deadwood connection, I've had this on my calendar for over a month. I was definitely entertained enough with the pilot that I'll keep tuning in for sure. The only thing that bugged me was the ex-wife's "You're the angriest man I know" bit. Just seemed too forced. Interestingly enough, what I didn't mind was when Olyphant would say, "It was justified". He always seemed to be delivering it with a touch of humor, not hubris, which would have made it intolerable.

The supporting cast of characters seems to have a lot of promise (esp. Raylan's coworkers) if the writers flesh them out don't screw it up. And I really hope we can see some larger roles for Black actors (and other people of color) that don't fall into caricature stereotypes) as the series goes on.

tribalism said...

I don't think a genuine noir show worth watching has been on the air since 'Veronica Mars' so the series premiere definitely succeeded by expectations--although it didn't quite impress me the way other first-rate cable shows have in the last few years (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and Damages have set the bar really high). That said, 'Justified' definitely has a ton of potential.

While the hillbilly Neo-Nazis do not make for the most relatable villains, Walton Goggins made Boyd someone who was genuinely entertaining to watch.

More of my thoughts on this episode are on my blog where I go into detail about Boyd's motivations and Raylan's anger issues. Click my username for the link.

katie70810 said...

@lynn I downloaded it from iTunes for free.

clockworkkian said...

One question! What was the name of the song that started near the end?

It was either by Miike Snow or Empire of the Sun. I vaguely recognized it, but I couldn't identify it.

It's been nagging me.

Anonymous said...

The entire presentation of the southern united states as some kind of hotbed of Naziism gets real tiring. Robert Mathews didn't crawl out of Kentucky.

I also noticed the california hills in the upcoming episode.

I saw the previews and got excited. Think I'll pass on these shallow caricatures.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I also noticed the california hills in the upcoming episode.

One upcoming episode takes place in California.

Tom said...

I'm underwhelmed, too.

What bugged me the most was the ep's ending. The entire show is built on the title character's code: if you're a bad guy, he's going to manipulate you into a situation where you have the choice to give up or pull a gun on him. Choose option B, and he kills you. It's JUSTIFIED.

First episode: the bad guy is as bad as it gets. Cold-blooded Neo-Nazi psychopathic greedhead killer. We get to the climax of the show, and the bad guy pulls a gun on the hero. If anytime blowing someone away was justified, this is that time. And what does our hero do?...

"Raylan goes against his code by letting Boyd live (which means Walton Goggins can return)."

Nuts to that.

I thought TV writing had outgrown that kind of pandering nonsense.

Chuck said...

Thought it was great. New favourite show.

Scott said...

Finally watched my DVR recording.

I enjoyed it, mainly due to the acting and the dialogue...we'll see how the dialogue holds up when it's not lifted from Leonard's source material.

The only thing that bugged was the many cliches, mostly related to the marginalization of southerners in general, and southern Christians specifically. But that's a crutch we see used so often that most people don't even notice it anymore, unless they happen to BE a Southern Christian. If your only experience with us was what you see on TV, you would be under the impression that Southern Christian equals casual racist at best, Nazi skinhead at worst.

I'll definitely be sticking around, but I'm hoping the characters get a lot more "round".

groovekiller said...

Just watched this on DVR (taking a break from CSPAN) and even though I thought it would be a show right up my alley, it left me a bit cold. I was hoping it would be a bit more serialized but seemed like it would be very episodic.

I don't know anything about future episodes, but I have to wonder how many different types of crimes would take place in and around Lexington, Kentucky to keep this within the realm of reality. (Kind of like Psych which makes it seems like Santa Barbara has a murder rate worse than West Body-more, Murdaland.)

Surprisingly, my wife who didn't really want to watch this, really loved it.

One last thing, to the person who complained about Raylan's saying "...it was justified." When that was written, performed, and filmed, the show was still called Lawman. It was probably changed to Justified b/c of his penchant for saying that...

Anonymous said...

It was a good pilot, but I have trouble seeing how it develops into a show in the style we're getting used to from our best serieses, the uber-plot sort of thing. It seems like a set-up for a fun show, but more like 'House' or 'Law and Order' than 'The Wire' or 'The Shield'.

Mark said...

@Clockworkkian

According to Shazam on my iPhone (can't believe how reliable that app is) it was Sans Soleil by Miike snow. Great tune.

MAV

Anonymous said...

I doubt anyone, let alone Sepinwall, will read this, since his blog has moved, but I just started watching this show recently, and I went to see what he had written about the episodes I've seen already. The show is really good so far (I'm only about seven episodes into the first season), but I have to object to some of Sepinwall's statements.

I don't think the "You're the angriest man I've ever known" line is "banging the audience over the head." Sepinwall seems to think that these characters are talking to him instead of each other. Why that is, I have no idea. Obviously, the audience can tell that he's an angry man (though I wouldn't say anything in the pilot would indicate that he's the angriest person someone has known in their life, so even the audience is given a revelation to some degree), but the point of that scene is that RAYLAN doesn't realize that he's angry. He's in denial. That's why the scene works. She wasn't talking to you, Alan. She was talking to Raylan.

And while we're here, the same thing goes for Sepinwall's asinine criticism of the best episode of the best miniseries ever made (The Breaking Point from Band of Brothers). The point of Speirs telling Lipton that he was the real leader of the unit--which is why he was receiving a battleground comission--is that Lipton didn't know who Speirs was talking about. That may strike some as not believable, but I could see how someone who had just survived the Battle of the Bulge might not pick up on where Speirs was going at first. At any rate, it's a great scene in a great episode, and Sepinwall would do well to stop whining about it.

And at any rate, since when is one character telling another character something once "banging the audience over the head"? The characters have to communicate with each other. What's next? Criticizing The Shawshank Redemption for "banging the audience over the head" with the theme of hope? Even Sepinwall's beloved The Wire (which I also loved) could be described as "banging the audience over the head" with its themes under Sepinwall's logic. That show was lauded for exploring a different theme each season, so how is the 100th scene showing the decay of the inner-city school system not banging the audience over the head, while one line of another series is? That makes no sense. And again, I loved The Wire. It reinforced its themes very skillfully. It just seems hypocritical to praise one show for doing something and criticizing another for doing the same thing, especially since it's to a lesser degree.

If you want a real example of banging the audience over the head, look at The Pursuit of Happyness. That movie could have been much better than it was if the director and writer didn't decide to show approximately one billion homeless shelter scenes. After the one where he has to lock him and his son in a subway station bathroom, there's nothing more to be done with that theme. We get it. His life sucked. But we still had to watch another 10 homeless shelter scenes instead of the internship scenes, which is what was the most interesting. That's when I felt like I was being banged over the head. Another example: Those awful Dexter scenes (I don't know why I still watch to be honest) with Deb telling her shrink that Dexter is the most important person in her life. We get it, Debra. Dreadful.