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Lawman Raylan Givens returns in this daring, totally 'Justified' reboot


This is FRESH AIR. After starring as an 1870s Western lawman in HBO's "Deadwood," Timothy Olyphant played a modern-day marshal in the FX drama series "Justified." That show, based on writer Elmore Leonard's character, the quick-tempered, fast-shooting Raylan Givens, ran from 2010 to 2015. But now the actor, the character and the series are back in a new eight-part FX sequel called "Justified: City Primeval." It premieres tomorrow on FX. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: "Justified," the original FX series, was one of the most underrated TV shows of the past decade. Graham Yost, who brought Elmore Leonard's vision and characters to television, did a great job with every aspect of the adaptation. The various writers and directors were electrifyingly original. And the stars and guest stars, from Walton Goggins to Margo Martindale, played at the highest possible level. This new sequel, called "Justified: City Primeval," is developed for TV by "Justified" veterans Dave Andron and Michael Dinner. And once again, it showcases what "Justified" did and still does best. It takes colorful and volatile characters, well-matched and equally unpredictable, and pits them against each other.

FX launches this eight-part sequel with a double feature consisting of the first two episodes. And if you watch them both, you'll witness the raw energy that "Justified" is capable of unleashing. And it's a daring, high-wire adaptation, a bold gamble that works only because this team knows the character of Raylan Givens, played magnetically by Timothy Olyphant, so, so well.

In Elmore Leonard's original "City Primeval" novel, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens isn't even in it. The killer at the center of the story, Clement Mansell, is the same. But in the book, the hero is a detective named Raymond Cruz. But for TV, Cruz is demoted to a minor supporting character. And a plot twist early on finds a way to insert Raylan into the action and into the city of Detroit, along with his now teenage daughter, Willa, who figures in the story early on.

When we last saw Willa in the final episode of the original "Justified" in 2015, she was a preschooler. Now, at the start of this new series, years later, Willa is 15. And Raylan is driving her to summer camp, as the radio plays, but Willa doesn't want to go. This early scene is especially noteworthy because the actress now playing Willa, making her acting debut, is Timothy Olyphant's real-life daughter, Vivian. And just like her dad, she plays her role impressively without any artifice whatsoever.


VIVIAN OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) Can we pull over at the next rest stop?

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) You sound like every fugitive I ever transported - stalling, pleading, looking for their chance to give me a slip out the bathroom window.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) The place you're shipping me off to might as well be a prison.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Website made it look quite pleasant.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) They won't let you leave, and they take your phone.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Sounds like heaven.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) You lost an hour without your phone. How else would you get the call?

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) What call, your call? All you do is text, and you barely do that anymore.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) Not my call, the call. Come on, Dad, I don't want to do this.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) I'm guessing you'll think about that the next time you consider punching a girl in the face.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) I barely touched her.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) You broke her nose.

V OLYPHANT: (As Willa Givens) She deserved it.

BIANCULLI: And that happens to open this drama. And "Justified: City Primeval" has nothing but memorable performances and characters ahead. Central to this particular story are Mansell, the elusive killer played by Boyd Holbrook, and Carolyn Wilder, the defense lawyer who has represented him in the past and helped him avoid prison. She's played by Aunjanue Ellis from "Lovecraft Country" and "King Richard." And when the three of them meet in Episode 2, the tone is quiet, but the tension is high. Raylan, suspecting Mansell of a recent crime involving a local judge, confronts him in the lawyer's office. Mansell starts mouthing off to Raylan until she stops him cold.


AUNJANUE ELLIS-TAYLOR: (As Carolyn Wilder) Not another word unless I ask you a question.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Can I ask him a question?

ELLIS-TAYLOR: (As Carolyn Wilder) What is it?

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Was he driving around a Range Rover last night, license number 8...

ELLIS-TAYLOR: (As Carolyn Wilder) He's not going to answer that.

BOYD HOLBROOK: (As Clement Mansel) No, go on. I want to hear how you're going to lay the judge on me.

ELLIS-TAYLOR: (As Carolyn Wilder) Not another word.

HOLBROOK: (As Clement Mansel) He's dying. You got this idea of what happened to the judge, you just can't get nobody to - what's the word? - corroborate it.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Corroborate. Hanging around courtrooms and county jails, you learn some words, don't you?

HOLBROOK: (As Clement Mansel) Yeah, you learn a few things about the lawman, too.

T OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) This ought to be good.

HOLBROOK: (As Clement Mansel) Only two kinds of guys out in the street chasing bad guys at your age - the ones who got passed over for the big chair and the ones that just love it so much, they're going to have to be dragged off. Only question is, will they be breathing when it happens?

BIANCULLI: Other major players include Vondie Curtis-Hall and Adelaide Clemens as two of Mansell's associates. And smaller parts, served up like little treats, are played by David Cross, Terry Kinney and other familiar faces viewers should discover for themselves - and you'll be delighted when you do. I had forgotten how much I loved and missed "Justified," but this new miniseries sequel brings it all back home. The two installments shown as the premiere conclude with one of this year's best and most tense TV scenes. And the overall ending of this miniseries, when it finally arrives, is so tantalizing, the thought of FX making even more installments is entirely and inarguably justified.

GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed the new series "Justified: City Primeval." It premieres tomorrow on FX. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll hear from the star of "Justified" and "Justified: City Primeval," Timothy Olyphant. He recorded the interview last week before the actors went out on strike. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORATONE'S "SWAMPED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.
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