Every once in a while, the Miami Herald's technology flies into a homicidal rage. Unfortunately, it doesn't eat editors -- despite our fervent prayers -- but stories. Last month, just as I was about to finish a review of the new FX show cop drama Justified, our newsroom computer swallowed the thing whole -- and with just half an hour to go before the drop-dead deadline, I gave up and told my editors to use a review from the wire services.
What was surprising about this was not that the computer ate the review -- but that earlier this week, it spit it back. It popped up on my screen as pretty as you please, right at the point where I stopped. So, a month or so late, here it is:
FX, the cable network that has made its name with murderous cops (The Shield), crazed plastic surgeons (Nip/Tuck), enema addicts (Starved), thieving gypsies (The Riches) and general sociopathology (It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia) might not be the place you'd expect to find an object lesson in the dangers of watching too much television. Yet what else can we make of Raylan Givens, the trigger-happy protagonist (nobody on FX shows can safely be referred to as "hero'') of the network's new cop drama Justified?
Givens, a U.S. marshal whose Stetson, boots and body count closely resemble those of the deputies he watched as a kid on Gunsmoke and other TV Westerns, is in trouble after gunning down yet another suspect. "You do know," queries his weary boss, "we're not allowed to shoot people on sight anymore, and haven't been for -- I don't know -- maybe 150 years?"
Givens, in fact, slaughters fugitives with such care-free abandon that his scandalized superiors decide that he's too violent for Miami. (I know!!) Instead, to his utter horror, they send him back to his boyhood home of Kentucky, where the culture is slightly more tolerant of public gunplay. (First scene there: Some guy on the street randomly fires a bazooka into a church.) Even so, when Givens celebrates his new assignment by putting a .45 slug into the chest of a disputatious citizen, his new chief gently warns him: "Put it like this -- if you was in the first grade and you bit somebody every week, they start to think of you as a biter."
A peculiar mix of post-modernist cop cynicism and redneck chic that could easily have been titled CSI: Snuffy Smith, Justified defies easy categorization or even explanation of its oddball appeal -- a characteristic it shares, not coincidentally, with the crime fiction of Elmore Leonard, from which it is drawn. (The 84-year-old Leonard is credited as one of the show's five executive producers.)
As in many of Leonard's works, the cops are marked by a kind of laconic ironicism that makes them says things, "Please, one of you do something stupid!'' as they pulled their guns on the bad guys. (That's particularly so of Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant as a slightly more homicidal version of Seth Bullock, the memorable sheriff he portrayed in HBO's Deadwood.) The criminals, meanwhile, are nearly always stupid but earnest. "You look good," one woman says with evident sincerity to her ex, just after he's been shot by
her new boyfriend.
Nothing in Justified is as
Right in the middle of that sentence, the computer cut me off. What was I going to write next? Don't have the faintest memory. But I'm sure it was killer.