Skip to main content

The answer is me and dead owls don't give a hoot.


Justified 
Season Three

I wouldn’t profess to know the ins and outs of US cable shows; certainly the extent to which a cable “hit” has a wider profile is beyond me. It seems like FX, Fox’s cable arm, is still best known for formative hit (in terms of original programming) The Shield, with other long-stayers including Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck(neither of which have I followed).

Series that I did follow were either unceremoniously ditched (The Riches) or continued elsewhere at diminished quality (Damages). The exceptions are Sons of Anarchy(despite a really stinky third season) and Justified, both of which air on Channel 5 in the UK. The latter seems to be that example of a quality show that hasn’t quite caught on in the UK; most people seem to have at least heard of Game of Thrones, or The Wire, or Dexter. Maybe it’s the restricted, southern locale; I don’t know. But it’s one of the most wholly satisfying imports of the moment, anchored by Timothy Olyphant’s laidback charisma and Graham Yost’s expert translation of Elmore Leonard’s easy charm and choice dialogue (no easy thing) to the small screen.

Season Three picks up where the previous run left off, and everyone (just watch the DVD extras) seems to agree that at very best they’ll only be able to equal that batch. The main reason for this is the iconic character of Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), whose departure leaves enormous shoes for any “Big Bad” to fill. It’s safe to say that Neal McDonough is unable to do this as Robert Quarles. But that’s more down to being served a fairly standard “Boo-hiss” villain with a nest of nasty peculiarities; Mags’ matriarchal figure was dangerous because she was so reasoned and nuanced. Even when Quarles appears to have the upper hand on Olyphant’s Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, you’re never in any doubt who’s craftier. Quarles’ precise demeanour is quickly stripped away to reveal a man on a precipice in a number of respects, while Raylan’s calm and stoicism in the face of danger means he will always win-out. 

The various overarching story trands follow Quarles’ quest for a crime foothold (based on supplying drug oxy), Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins, who appeared in the pilot as a one-off but made such an impression that he is basically the series’ second-lead) to recover his own “empire” and the various playing of sides off each other by Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson, probably best known as Bubba in Forrest Gump). Quarles’ involvement enables a welcome increased presence for enforcer and co-conspirator Wynn Duffy (the fantastically weasely Jere Burns, also known for Breaking Badand Burn Notice). Then there’s the return of Jeremy Davies as would-be-bad-guy-but-consummate-fool Dickie Bennett, and Raylan’s looming fatherhood, to contend with; it has to be said that some of the regular characters definitely suffer from lack of interest on the part of the writers this season. While Ava (Joelle Carter) holds her own, Winona (Natalie Zea) and Marshals Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel) have slim pickings.

The character-based comedy that comes from Leonard at his best is fully in evidence. Scenes fly by loaded with wall-to-wall witticisms; some so deadpan you barely catch them. What makes Raylan so endearing is his ability not just to give them but be on the receiving end, bearing the brunt with benign (mostly) resignation.

Individual storylines and guest stars interweave with the broader season arc from the off. The Gunfighter begins the season with cocky hit man Fletcher “The Ice Pick” Nix encountering Raylan. The showdown is inventive (partly devised by Olyphant, there’s more than a whiff of The Avengers’ episode A Touch of Brimstone to Raylan’s face-off with his adversary). Dexter’s Desmond Harrington really gets to have fun in this one, really playing up the jerk in Fletcher. Carla Gugino guests in the second and Pruitt Taylor Vince has a memorable spot in Harlan Roulette as a disreputable pawnshop owner. Vince has had a clutch of good roles of late, with this, The Mentalistand The Walking Dead. And James Le Gros returns from Season Two as Wade. Thick as Mud is a frequently hilarious showcase for Damon Herriman’s Dewey Crowe (no matter how dumb the characters in Harlan are, Dewey is guaranteed to make them look relatively smart), when he falls victim to organ traders. When the Guns Come out holds the first of two appearances from William Mapother (that’s Tom Cruise’s cousin to you), playing the new pimp in town.

The Man Behind the Curtain (Episode 7) pushes in to gear for the last half of the season with a number of returning faces; Jim Beaver as Sheldon (along with Olyphant and Vince, ex- of Deadwood), induced by Boyd to run for mayor, and Winona’s ex-husband Gary (William Ragsdale). Best of all, Stephen Tobolowsky’s infuriated FBI Agent (who will pop up again in the fourth season). The plots are more tightly-linked from this point, with the mayoral campaign, the attempt to frame Raylan and the escalation of antagonism between the various factions. Along the way come some superbly written and shot set pieces; the landmine in Loose Ends, Waylan testifying against Dickie (going hilariously wrong) in Guy Walks into a Bar, the plotting and counterplotting and counter-counterplotting in penultimate episode Coalition. The final episode manages to satisfyingly pull-off the seemingly impossible (keeping certain regular characters out of prison, to fight another day) while bring back into focus Waylan’s aberrant relationship with his father Arlo (Raymond J Barry).

Also guesting in the last few are the likes of Adam Arkin and Michael Ironside. The former directs an episode, as he has done since the first season. Fellow thesp Tony Goldwyn also calls the shots frequently. Jon Avnet is another series regular, hitting a stride he’s rarely found on the big screen (Righteous Kill, anyone?) while John Dahl’s noirish stylings are ideally suited to this sort of fare (he seems equally at home with Dexterand Californication, so hopefully he’ll find the time to get a movie off the ground again before too long). The director of the finale, Galaxy Quest’s Dean Parisot, has Red 2 coming out this summer; like many cable series, Justifiedattracts both TV veterans and “slumming it” (or out-of-favour, or just frustrated at not being able to get a project going) moviemakers.

The series has not yet been renewed for a fifth run. It doesn’t quite have the ratings dazzle of FX’s brightest shows, but it would be a shame if, having got this far, Yost was unable to shepherd it through the six seasons he envisaged. Highly recommended.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c