Justified s5 ep 1

What a cracking start to the season.

Art lends a mildly disgruntled – but slightly mellowed? Or is that wishful thinking on my part? – Raylan to Marshals on the trail of the fantastically-named Elvis Machado and the Florida Crowes. (Not a tribute band, FYI.) In a bid to short-circuit matters, Raylan points out that “we got a perfectly good Crowe right here in Kentucky,” but, as we find out during an utterly hilarious scene, the newly-rich Dewey either can’t or won’t help, so off our hero heads to sunny Miami to catch some crooks (in more ways than one) and avoid seeing his ex-wife and baby daughter because that hat ain’t big enough for all the Manly Man Feelings he’d have to deal with if he saw them in person.

On the other side of the law, meanwhile, Boyd and the majestically-eyebrowed Wynn Duffy head to Detroit after a dope deal goes sour, and find themselves in the middle of a trade disagreement between their suppliers and their suppliers – I think? – that I’m not sure I entirely understand, but somehow manages to be both grim, gory and blackly funny at the same time.

And that’s Justified for you. Reviews suggest that season five may not be as good as the others, and, on the one hand, it’s easy to see from this first episode how things could go wrong: Darryl Crowe could easily outstay his welcome, Wendy Crowe could annoy me by getting the better of Raylan like Lynsay/Lynsey/Lindsay the bartender did in season four, and whatever is going on with Boyd and the Canadians could get wearisome. So, yeah, it’s easy to see how things could go wrong. But it’d also be churlish to worry about that now, when everything in “A Murder of Crowes” is so marvellously, gloriously right. From the opening court scene to the final seconds, this is Justified at something close to its wonderful best; unapologetically smart, wickedly funny and completely, thoroughly engrossing. The writing is amongst the sharpest on tv, and Walton Goggins as the grandiloquent, ruthless Boyd and Jere Burns as the magificently deadpan Wynn Duffy are absolutely terrific, of course. But my heart belongs to Timothy Olyphant’s weary, laconic, coiled-spring of a Marshal Givens. Swoon. Great to have you back, Raylan. Great to have you all back.

Public Service Announcement 45 of 2015: Justified, Orphan Black

After being dropped by Five USA and spending a couple of years in the exclusive wilderness of “Sky Go box sets,” season five of unpopcult favourite Justified finally makes it to actual UK television on Friday (25th) night at 10pm on Spike (another one of the Five stable for those keeping track). The sixth and final season has already finished in the US, obviously, but late is better than never and I love me some Raylan Givens so I’ll be tuning in and doing weekly reviews as soon as I can.

Speaking of wilderness, meanwhile, in “perhaps the most bizarre scheduling decision in history” as described entirely accurately by our very own Jed, BBC3 has finally got round to showing season three of Orphan Black, starting on Sept 27th. On one view, three months after it finished in the U.S. isn’t anywhere near the longest delay we’ve seen, but showing it in daily double bills starting at 2.10AM on a Sunday morning (and then continuing with equally mad but slightly different times each morning thereafter) is actually crazy. Season three is arguably weaker than the previous two and its US ratings lower, but either show it at a halfway sensible time or don’t show it at all. This madness suggests that either BBC3 schedulers are lunatics or they’ve given up entirely on people watching on TV pending their proposed move online. The fact that all of OB season three is going to be available on iPlayer as of tonight lends credence to the latter theory, but why anyone would think experimenting with a tiny niche show like OB in this way would work is beyond me: it’s not going to teach the masses to watch online, since the masses don’t actually watch it. Which brings me back to lunacy being the most likely explanation. I hate double bills, I hate early mornings and I hate daily showings of anything so well done BBC3. I won’t be doing regular reviews this time around but I’ll maybe just do a wrap-up at season’s end.

Public Service Announcement 42 of 2014: Forever, The Blacklist, Justified

New ABC drama Forever starts tonight in the UK. It stars Ioan Gruffudd as Dr Henry Morgan, a New York medical examiner who has a secret – he’s actually immortal!!!1! Yes, it’s Undead Body of Proof. In fairness, the premise offers at least the possibility of good silly fun, but the show opened in America to a critical reception which was largely unenthusiastic, while generally not being actually hostile. Equally, ratings haven’t been dreadful, but as yet are nowhere near a level which would guarantee renewal. CJ’s seen the first episode, and thinks it’s more for me; I haven’t seen it and won’t be bothering. But if anyone does, or has, let me know if I’m making a mistake (Sky 1, 9pm).

With that out of the way, though, let’s get the bunting out for the return of one of the best new shows of the 2013/14 season: The Blacklist is back. A killer concept, a well-paced backstory, and a scenery-chewing yet occasionally subtle central performance from James Spader; it’s everything a network procedural drama should be. My only hope for season 2 is that members of the supporting cast manage to emerge from Red Reddington’s shadow; but, hell, I don’t care too much if they don’t, because The Blacklist isn’t broke and doesn’t need fixing. As with season 1, weekly reviews (tomorrow, Sky Living, 9pm).

And there’s a sort-of return for Unpopcult favourite Justified, without a UK broadcaster for the moment, but as of the start of October season 5 is available on demand through Sky something-or-other. Without looking too closely, the better to avoid spoilers, I kind of got the impression that this season wasn’t quite as rapturously received as previous ones.

Might be as well to get the stuff lingering on your hard drive watched or deleted, though, because there’s much more around the corner: Homeland, Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, The Knick, How To Get Away With Murder, and Hawaii Five-0 are just some of the shows hitting UK screens over the next couple of weeks.

Justified s4 ep 13

Do or die time in Harlan: in two distinct but overlapping storylines bringing to a climax weeks of jeopardy and derring-do, Raylan and Boyd each risked everything to eliminate the threat to their loved ones, and gave us an absolutely magnificent end to an absolutely magnificent season in the process.

For anyone labouring under the misapprehension that Justified is just a guy acting cool while shooting folk, “Ghosts” was a perfect illustration of why it’s much, much more than that. While there’s no denying the eye-popping exhilaration of the shoot-out at Winona’s or Raylan’s shrugged “I’m suspended” as he walked away from the Sammy Tonin solution (which sounds like a blues band), the real power in this episode came from a series of majestic one-on-one confrontations between characters at their most vulnerable and therefore most dangerous: Raylan and Boyd at Jonny’s, Raylan and Boyd in the car, Raylan and Nicky Augustine in the other car. Each was more electrifying than the last, with dialogue as sharp and polished as a very expensive diamond, and performances to match.

In all honesty, I’d actually quite like Ava to go to jail, so I didn’t care whether Boyd’s scheme to get rid of Delroy’s body worked or not, but that strand was still fantastically plotted and Walton Goggins’s performance as everything went to hell was as fantastic as ever – perhaps even more so in that moment when Wynn Duffy returned to offer him something else to keep him warm at night instead. Raylan’s story was perfect in every way though, and that final visual of the wonderful Timothy Olyphant sitting in that hellish garden, contemplating those gravestones, to the sound of “You’ll never leave Harlan alive” was as quietly devastating a moment as I’ve seen all year. Justified isn’t just a guy acting cool while shooting folk; it’s a community of complex, flawed and compelling characters, all unable to escape their pasts, no matter how much they might try. At its best – and this episode was one of its best – it’s mesmerising and marvellous and if you haven’t seen the first four seasons yet, you should. For me, season 5 can’t come fast enough.

Justified s4 ep 12

Now Drew’s been secured, the hunt shifts to the consolation prize: nabbing Ellen Mae is the object of this week’s finely-honed combination of detective skills, drawling negotiation and deadly force.

So Boyd and Nicky team back up, Raylan heads to the holler with Rachel and Tim in tow, and Ava finally finds her line in the sand. It’s all beautifully written and impeccably acted – the dialogue and delivery is terrific – but, despite some absolutely glorious moments, I think I admired “Peace of Mind” more than I loved it. Possibly because “Decoy” was so good that it was a bit too soon to repeat the “everybody’s on the hunt for X, who will get to them first?” formula without a little déjà vu. Or possibly because Limehouse gets on my last nerve. Grrr. Mind you, whatever the reason, this ep was still razor-sharp and blackly funny and I enjoyed it a lot so I don’t know what I’m complaining about.

Justified s4 ep 11

The Marshals may have got their man, but now they have to get him the hell outta Dodge and, with the ruthless Nicky Augustine and never-down-for-long Boyd and co. determined to stop them, that ain’t gonna be easy. It is, however, gonna be a terrific 42 minutes or so of tv…..

My gosh, this was marvellous.

Lovingly weaving in traditional Western tropes like “circling the wagons” and “The Battle of the Bloody Porch” with more modern humour like the inspired “Yolo/Yoda/Yoohoo” riff, the dialogue was so polished it shone, while the action was thrilling, shocking, then thrilling again. Art and Tim’s strand, particularly the phone call with Colt, was superb. Raylan and Constable Bob were glorious in all sorts of ways. And the whole thing was a masterclass in grown-up tv drama. Why certain awards people can’t see that, I don’t know, but that’s a complaint for another day. This episode was awesome.

Justified s4 ep 10

The newly-unmasked Drew Thompson is on the run, with Boyd, Jonny and the Marshals all in pursuit, so the question isn’t if he’s going to get caught, it’s who’s going to do the catching. And how painful it’s going to be.

With all escape routes out of Harlan locked down, then, Drew and Ellen Mae seek sanctuary in the most ill-advised and desperate of places, Boyd gambles big and loses, and Art, Rachel and Raylan form one of the fiercest, funniest comedy troupes on tv. From Rachel facing Raylan down to the “ladies underwear” discussion to Art insisting that the “first thing we’re gonna do is acknowledge that this guy is awesome” – the Marshals are both bad-ass and hilarious, and I adore them. Although Boyd does give them a run for their money on the comedy front with his suggestion that Raylan switch to the dark side: “You’d still be able to shoot people and be an asshole – your two favourite activities.” Heh. I love this show.

Justified s4 ep 9

Despite the implausibility (and ethical dubiety) of Raylan regularly being allowed anywhere near the investigations involving his father or childhood friend etc, Justified is so good at making it all believable that I tend not to notice. I did balk a bit on reading the blurb for this episode, though – Raylan transports his father’s killer? Really?!?!

Seemed like a step too far on the plausibility front, but that was before I watched it – they found a perfectly sensible way to make it work, and to make it work brilliantly. Sure, turning it into Raylan going rogue may be the default for the show, but if it ain’t broke…. “The Hatchet Tour” was great. Weaving Constable Bob, Wynn Duffy and the resolution of the Drew Thomson mystery all together with Raylan’s tortured but dogged determination not to let his appalling father’s failings destroy him, be it in life or in death, was a fantastic idea and I thoroughly enjoyed that side of things. Tired though I am of Boyd and Ava’s endless “Baby” chat, I found myself sucked back into their storyline as well, with the genuine menace in Boyd’s scenes with Colton setting up some real trouble ahead. If that trouble also involves the potentially interesting Tim and his off-the-books investigation into Mark’s death, so much the better.

Justified s4 ep 8

The search for Drew Thomson continued this week, with the body count rising all the while, as Raylan tried to get Hunter to take the deal Arlo wouldn’t with grim results, while Boyd manipulated Wynn Duffy and the Dixie Mafia into killing two birds with one button man.

The sheer number of scenes where people were shot to smithereens could have made this week’s Justified seem more like a computer game than top quality drama, but its tale of death, double-dealing and daddy issues was expertly, beautifully executed (sorry), keeping things much more operatic than Xbox. The acting was superlative all around, with the scene with Arlo in the infirmary and the shoot-out at Audrey’s particular highlights, but you’d have to go some to top the moment when Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan, having been forced into taking leave from work to deal with SPOILER, stood waiting alone for the lift – the weary, heartsore look in his eyes deserved an Emmy all of its own.

Justified s4 ep 7

The guy who spent a significant part of episode 1 in the boot of Raylan’s car is on the run again and this time, he’s after Raylan. Raylan, meanwhile, out to avenge that poor nice bounty hunter lady, is after him right back. And, just to liven things up, there’s a cokehead film-maker, a big bag of money and a pretty young gambler called Jackie Nevada all tangled up in the mix as well.

It all sounds like good, Justified fun, and most of it was, but for some reason “Money Trap” didn’t quite do it for me. There was a lot I enjoyed: Raylan was as cool as ever, I loved his charmed but rueful banter with Jackie and his shootouts (both of ’em) were awesome. Jody’s film was hilarious, too, and that scene with Arlo was probably worth the price of admission by itself. But Paul from Mad Men’s character was an unnecessary (and too self-consciously “wacky”) addition to the story, and Ava and Boyd’s storyline was neither bad nor good, it was just there. Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate the whole thing properly, I don’t know. Either way, I thought it was fine but nothing special.