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‘Deadwood’ hero fights crime in ‘Justified’

Once home to "The Shield," a police drama packed with ambiguity, FX swings to the opposite extreme with "Justified," a crime drama with a hero as pure  as the cowboy stars of old Westerns.
/ Source: Reuters

Once the home of "The Shield," a police drama packed with moral ambiguity, FX swings to the opposite extreme with "Justified," a crime drama with a hero as brave, pure and ethical as the cowboy stars of old Westerns.

Timothy Olyphant, using many of the same acting muscles as when he played Sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO's "Deadwood," stars as Raylan Givens, a U.S. marshal with nerves of steel and ice water in his veins. Olyphant might not be the obvious choice for the role, but, especially when crowned by a 10-gallon hat, he is convincing as a lawman with a sharp mind, an observant eye and a quick draw.

"Justified," which premieres Tuesday at 10 p,m. ET/PT, will not stretch the dramatic envelope the way many FX shows have. Still, with its white knight of a hero, fine guest stars and intriguing relationships, one can rely on the show to deliver 13 hours of entertaining and occasionally taut crime drama.

The character, plucked from a short story by crime novelist Elmore Leonard (who gets an executive producer credit on the series), grew up in Kentucky, where he worked the coal mines as a teen. His father, a Vietnam War veteran, improvised a career just outside the law. At 19, Raylan reacted to his father's unspecified schemes by trading his pick and shovel for a gun and badge. He thought his new job was a one-way ticket out of Kentucky. No such luck.

In the opening scene of the pilot, Raylan shoots a cartel leader in Miami (in self-defense, of course) and gets transferred to the Lexington, Ky., office. There, he reports to father-figure Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) and works alongside two by-the-book colleagues, Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Jacob Pitts (Tim Gutterson).

For good measure, there's also an ex-wife (Natalie Zea) and the former girl-next-door (Joelle Carter), who would be a love interest if she wasn't a homicide defendant in one case and Raylan's key witness in another. (Now, that's complicated.)

Kentucky is a fresh location for a genre that has been sliced and diced almost to death. But though the setting is unique, the bad guys aren't. In the pilot, Raylan goes up against a cell of neo-Nazis as dumb as they are prejudiced. Credit some clever dialogue by Graham Yost and the riveting acting of guest star Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, the ultra-nationalist leader (and former best friend of Raylan) for keeping this from becoming a two-dimensional morality play.

Goggins's character originally was supposed to die at the end of the pilot. Fortunately, Yost had second thoughts and revised the story. More scenes between Raylan and Crowder will be most welcome.