FX’s Justified just wrapped up an excellent third season, cementing its place as one of the best dramas on TV. Generally, cable dramas with huge buzz and acclaim (i.e. Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad) get all the love, but Justified has been quietly churning out fantastic television. I’d even go as far as to call Justified the most entertaining drama on TV.
Justified, originally based off of the short story “Fire in the Hole” from popular writer Elmore Leonard, takes place in Harlan county Kentucky, where federal Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) tries to keep a lid on a formidable criminal element. Olyphant, who also carries a producing credit on the show, brings an undeniable charisma to his lead performance here. Raylan is an emotionally stunted cop with an old-fashioned sense of police work, making Justified a sort of cop procedural with a twist.
Justified’s strength is in its colorful characterization. The show manages to give even minor characters something interesting to do that fleshes them out while still rolling with what works. Case in point: co-star Walton Goggins’ character Boyd Crowder (one of Harlan’s top criminals) was originally intended to die in the pilot episode, but Goggins’ magnetic performance won the writers and showrunner Graham Yost over and led to basically a second lead role.
The third season of Justified crammed in a ton of plot into its 13 episode run. New criminals enter Harlan, like Neal McDonough in an unnerving performance as Robert Quarles, a Detroit businessman coming to Harlan to exploit what he thinks are dumb southerners. The show has both highly serialized arcs and unique stand-alone episodes. Justified often strikes the perfect balance between self-contained episode stories and long serialized story arcs that come to a head at the end of the season.
For prospective viewers of Justified, start at the beginning. The show has one of the strongest pilots of any show on TV right now and only builds on its world from there. By drawing from the source material of Elmore Leonard, the writers create finely textured characters who even appear sympathetic when they are doing terrible, terrible things. If you’re looking for a new drama to get into, no show is more deserving of your attention than Justified.