by Jim McFarlin
There is a theory in TV criticdom that one can usually tell how high a network's expectations are for a new series by how much money they've sunk into its press kit. The media guide for Justified, the Old West saga for the 21st century premiering at 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 on FX, is gorgeous: muted tones of red, gray and brown, thick paper stock, full-page biographies of all its major players, and a die-cut recess to hold the preview DVD. Glitz.
FX probably feels (sorry, can't help it) justified in such promotional extravagance because the voice behind its newest original series is America's greatest living Western and crime novelist — our own Bard of Bloomfield Village, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard.
Evoking the edgy tension of No Country for Old Men, Justified is built around the character of Raylan Givens, a laconic lawman who appears in Leonard's short story Fire in the Hole, the basis for Tuesday's premiere episode,and several of his novels. Leonard, 84, serves as one of the show's executive producers.
Givens is portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, whom you may remember as the insufferably righteous sheriff Seth Bullock on the HBO Western series Deadwood. He's back in a Stetson and boots for Justified yet plays an entirely different type of peacekeeper. Givens hails from the hills of Harlan, Ky., but left at 19 and became a U.S. Marshal to move as far as possible from the shadow of his father, Arlo, a career criminal. Years later, his botched drug arrest in Miami incurs the wrath of his Marshals Service bosses, who reassign him to Kentucky — with the people and demons of his past — as punishment.
Ramrod straight, tight-lipped, no-nonsense and true blue (pick your favorite cliché), Raylan Givens is a perfect addition to FX, the network that has given us such intense and unforgettable characters as The Shield's Vic Mackey, Rescue Me's Tommy Gavin and Patty Hewes on Damages. (Note: Justified is rated TV-MA, for mature viewers only.)
Word is that Leonard is so excited over the treatment his adapted work is receiving that he's writing a new 50-page narrative on Givens expressly to help give the producers some additional insight into the character. And his fellow executive director, Graham Yost, also has local ties, of a sort. Yost, creator of the tragically short-lived NBC series Boomtown and co-executive producer of HBO's current World War II blockbuster The Pacific, is the son of Elwy Yost, the genial host of Saturday Night at the Movies for more than 25 years on TVOntario, seen in Detroit via Windsor television.