There are many shows which get labelled underrated but it really does describe Justified. The show has won only two Emmys during its run – for Margo Martindale’s electric performance as Mags Bennett and for Jeremy Davies as the unhinged Dickie Bennett. No awards for Walton Goggins, no awards for Timothy Olyphant and none for Joelle Carter. Which really is kind of ridiculous. Awards don’t mean everything but the lack of recognition highlights how the series has never reached the critical acclaim of its contemporaries such as Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
In a Golden Age of TV maybe there is just too much greatness out there but Justified always stood apart from the pack because its number one mandate is to be entertaining. Other prestige cable dramas can sometimes be a little too serious and whilst there is nothing wrong with that there is something refreshing about Justified and the way it blended action, complex plots, humor, wit and characterisation.
Even as the series went into the deepest dark depths of Harlan County and its criminals it never lost what made it special. It was unadulterated fun.
Every episode had a piece of dialogue which came to life in the hands of actors such as Goggins and Olyphant. Every newly introduced character came fully realised within their first scene. The criminals and the bad guys got just as much focus as the good guys and that made the battle between who might win even more electrifying.
In an age of the anti-hero Raylan Givens never really fell into that trope as much as say Walter White or Jax Teller. Raylan comes close to crossing the line and has questionable methods at times but he is still generally on the right side of the law. Instead Justified gave us Boyd Crowder, a mesmerizing anti-villain that gave a dark look at what Raylan’s life may have become if he had stayed in Harlan.
Boyd Crowder has the greatest character arc of modern times. Watching the first season I was completely confused as to why I was so enthralled by Boyd, this is the man who is a Neo-Nazi in the pilot episode, a racist and a violent criminal and yet as the season progresses the layers of Boyd are revealed. He is an opportunist above all else. Walton Goggins took the stereotype of a racist red neck and turned it into something else – a baddie the audience care about, a man whose love for Ava Crowder makes him human, a deeply flawed human being who can talk his way out of trouble but also into it.
Without such a fully formed antagonist the story of Raylan Givens would not have been half as interesting. Justified isn’t just about a Deputy US Marshal rediscovering his home town, it’s about how he has tried his life not to become another Crowder, Bennett, Crowe or hell a Givens like his father. Boyd and Raylan are two sides of the same coin, both bitter and jealous at each other. Both struggling to fight against their true nature.
Like I said though Justified is pure entertainment and whilst some might consider that a backhanded compliment I believe it’s what made Justified one of the all-time greats.