After some disappointments ratings-wise with “Terriers” and “Lights Out,” FX’s “Justified” comes riding to the rescue, looking as rough and ready as ever. Timothy Olyphant’s enormously appealing star turn as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is augmented by even stronger support in this second round-up, with key cast additions — among them Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies — lending more dark humor and sizzle to novelist Elmore Leonard’s seamy rural environs. Moderately serialized but also satisfyingly procedural, the series ought to incentivize programmers to brave wading back into the cowboy business.
The three episodes previewed begin by cleaning up some loose ends from last season, but quickly add several new ones. The show also deftly lampoons its Kentucky setting — where an outlaw can be called a “special kind of an idiot,” without exaggeration — in a world where opiates of choice range from moonshine to pot and pills.
The anachronistic shoot-first, talk-later marshal’s personal life remains something of a mess, having started up again with his ex-wife (Natalie Zea). Fortunately, he’s a major bad-ass as a lawman — dispensing a kind of frontier justice — and has new heavies worthy of him, including recurring roles for Martindale as a pot-peddling mom and Davies as her sadistic son. (His cell phone, hilariously, plays “Dueling Banjos.”)
“The Shield’s” Walton Goggins, happily, also is still around as the con, and former friend Raylan put in prison — with a playfulness to their exchanges that belies the threat of menace.
Then again, that’s the delicate line series creator Graham Yost straddles — weaving wit and humor into the series (when a guy named James Earl Dean is mentioned, someone wearily mutters about not trusting men with “three first names”) while dealing in creepy, gritty plots involving pedophilia, black-market babies, white supremacists and errant drug deals. The show also plays to a small-market, Western sensibility while still poking fun at Southern eccentricities, all within its modern-day setting.
In short, coming off the first season’s solid ratings, “Justified” pretty much looks like a home run for FX, which has been getting by lately on singles and doubles. And given the rich atmosphere Leonard created, the channel will exhaust its need for more episodes long before Givens runs out of hillbillies who deserve to be locked up, or pushing up dirt.