Timothy Olyphant dons the hat and badge once more as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in FX’s revival series Justified: City Primeval. The swagger-filled action leaves the backwoods of Harlan, Kentucky, for the urban decay in the dangerous streets of Detroit, where an unhinged and unpredictable new nemesis lurks.
After viewing all of eight episodes of Justified: City Primeval, it’s clear the time is right for a wiser, salt and pepper haired Raylan Givens to grace our screens. Terrific performances from the top (Olyphant) down beg for Emmy consideration. Replacing Graham Yost, new showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner have tapped into the spirit of the show while shifting some of the tone and cinematography to suit this new location.
Olyphant certainly deserves all the praise he surely will receive for his role reprisal, but new villain Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) takes the torch from Raylan’s previous arch-enemy Boyd Crowder (the amazing Walton Goggins) with sociopathic flying colors. Holbrook gives one of the best antagonist performance in recent television history, electrifying the screen with every tense conversation and bonkers mood swing. There’s no telling what he’ll say or do: at times he’s hilarious, at times terrifying – but you’ll love every uncomfortable minute with him throughout the season. The character is absolutely fascinating on his own and also brings out the best in Olyphant and his character.
The overall story of the season revolves around the murder of a Detroit judge that sets Raylan and Clement on a collision course neither seems to fully understand or particularly want. Clement’s lawyer, with aspirations to take the judge’s seat, Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis), also enters the fated adversaries’ orbit, toying with the light and dark paths for her future. Ellis is terrific, but her character doesn’t always have fit into the main proceedings and sometimes is shoehorned into situations solely for the actress’ lead cast status.
Clement also drags the criminally inclined musician and bar-owner Marcus “Sweetie” Sweeton (Vondie Curtis Hall) into the fold. The “old friends” have a complicated relationship that is one of the best parts of the season. Their intense partnership and diverging musical talent make for fascinating interactions and terrific acting. The rest of the supporting cast fills out the run of the season as minor filler. Raylan’s daughter Willa, played by Olyphant’s real life daughter Vivian Olyphant, represents the path he’s been on in the 15 years since the Justified finale. The father/daughter duo has natural chemistry (they’d better), but the character is mostly a plot device that fades out of the main arc just short of crossing the line into annoying teenage kid character tropes.
Justified: City Primeval is a well-crafted, dialogue driven thriller that excels at tension and dry humor. So much is done in these episodes without physical combat or punches flying. A steely look or an inflection in phrasing tells volumes in each scene and these episodes will have you hanging on every word. Not to say there isn’t mature content or bullets fired, but this show is about the characters and not the spectacle. It’s refreshing to take a break from the Marvel and Star Wars style blockbuster streaming series to partner up with U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens for a gritty, street level thriller. When the final episode’s end credits roll at the end of the show’s weekly releases on FX, old and new fans will clamor for more Justified and I’ll be joining them.
Score: 4 out of 5
FX’s Justified: City Primeval premieres with two episodes on July 18 at 10pm ET/PT, available next day on Hulu.