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Cable Television Rundown: Justified, aka Law and Order: Rural Kentucky

I'm not one to normally recommend that one watch a modern dramatic television series beginning with an episode in the middle of its first season run. But, FX's new semi-serial (yes, only semi-serial! I am watching a series where its current focus is not on events purely of serial nature!) procedural plays like a rural Kentucky version of Law and Order. Six weeks into its run, it has produced mostly good results, with the definite highlight in episode four, "Long in the Tooth" (now available on Hulu, and embedded below):

The fourth episode of Justified guest stars the incomparable Alan Ruck as a mob accountant-turned-fugitive dentist with a mean streak. Ruck has so much fun with his role as, basically, a version of his character Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, had Cam continued to hold his repressed rage within for 30+ years. Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens, Justified's main character, meanwhile, stalks Ruck's dentist character with confidence and general bad-assery. His personal demons, alluded to in every episode and eventually pushed forward with future episodes, ride in the background while the "case of the week" procedural aspect comes to the forefront.

That's what makes Justified a rarity in these days of cable drams: it focuses on the case-of-the-week procedural aspects. Ask Lady Amy and our friends over at Munch My Benson about how good procedural shows can be: the Law & Order franchise in particular has gotten much right about how to mix compelling story of the week narratives framed by familiar cops and criminals. But, these days, cable networks run the risk of losing their all-so-important critical cache by, on the surface, producing shows that are nothing more than weekly procedurals.

As one would expect from FX, though, there is a twist. Raylan Givens, shipped from his job as a US Marshall back to his hometown, tackles various cases while slowly-but-surely uncovering his own personal demons, and his mixed relationship with his hometown. So, while the procedurals work individually (and especially well in an episode like "Long in the Tooth" with a fantastic guest acting performance), the serial elements are there, too. And frankly, Olyphant is so perfect for this role that I could forsee this show working both as a procedural and a serial drama for a long time. In this show's case, mixing the procedural with the serial should pay some long-term dividends, making it one of those rare shows that I can actually watch somewhat passively and enjoy as much as I would intensely.

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  1. Blogger chris | 4:10 PM |  

    Yay for Justified on Hulu! Just watched the 2nd ep, which I missed.

    "I gotta ask; what's with the hat?"

    "I just tried it on and it fit."

    Love it. Theme song's growing on me too.

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