A review of the second episode of "Justified" coming up just as soon as I talk to a one-time exotic dancer...
Of the four episodes of "Justified" I've seen, "Riverbrook" was definitely the weakest of the bunch - not bad, but a definite comedown from the thrills, chills and laughs of the pilot, and not as strong at working without an Elmore Leonard safety net as the third or (particularly) fourth episode.
Again, you can't underestimate how big an issue that is. Graham Yost borrowed large chunks of Leonard's dialogue from "Fire in the Hole" for the pilot, and while I think it would have been folly to try creating Leonard soundalike dialogue going forward(*), there's definitely less snap to a lot of the banter in this one.
(*) Jason Smilovic and company did okay with that on "Karen Sisco," but in general Leonard's authorial voice is so distinctive that a bad imitator would stick out much worse than not trying to copy him at all.
There were still some very funny moments, like the party guest calling for "Freebird," or Art giving Raylan a hard time about losing his gun, badge and hat to Cooper the bank robber. And some cool running gags, too, like Tim the ex-sniper telling Raylan about he learned to create "stories" about each of his potential targets, until the idea caused some snipers (and, it's implied, him) to have some killer's remorse, which led to the great payoff where Tim described his story about Dupree: "Yeah, if he does anything out of line, I get to shoot him."
My problem with the episode, I think, came largely from the Cooper/Dupree/Shirley side of things. Given the nature of a Marshal's job, and the way that Leonard himself structures most of his stories, the bad guys have to be as important to every story as the good guys. And that can work if Raylan's quarry is played by someone as instantly-colorful as Walton Goggins (who returns briefly as Boyd at the top), or if the writing for the guest characters is really spot on (as it is in the fourth episode). But Cooper was never a compelling enough character for me to want to spend long stretches of the episode with him, and away from Raylan. Tim Olyphant sets such a high bar that the show is going to need to be really smart with how it writes and casts the guest stars, or else the show is going to tip heavily to one side.
(That, or they'll need to rethink how they apportion screen time, and that has its own pitfalls; if we're not in any way invested in Raylan's targets, then things get repetitive.)
What did everybody else think?