Television Review: Justified Season 3 Premiere

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The show originally came out of the gate with its identity solidly intact: the juxtaposition of contemporary vibe, lost-world setting and timeless themes; the balance of humor, heart and violence; and the rich humanity, all suffused with spiritual father Elmore Leonard's matter-of-fact deadpan cool. And 30 or so episodes in, it isn't about to screw around with a truly winning formula.

The new season brings the Dixie Mafia storyline that circled the periphery of season two into focus, setting up what's sure to be a bombastic collision of old and new culture, without losing sight of the relationships that make the show so addictive. The interactions between Timothy Olyphant's lanky badass Federal Marshal Raylan Givens and his psychotic boyhood chum/adulthood frenemy Boyd Crowder (perfectly played by Walton Goggins) continue to be both hilarious and poignant, and the complications that come with the pregnancy of Givens' ex-wife Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) lend further depth.

Sure, the performances are staggeringly good all around. It's the writing, however — and in particular the contributions of Leonard and primary scribe Graham Yost, who co-wrote this episode — that elevates Justified. Every element of the show is vibrant and multidimensional, from the scenery and action to the dialogue and the moments between lines. That's what's so great about it: it starts with a familiar cliche, then immediately and completely transcends the expectations that come along with it. There's a world here, a world of full lives and special moments and hard choices. And while it may not be a world I'm in any hurry to inhabit, it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

For two seasons now, I've half-seriously wondered if my opinion that Justified is the best show on television might be the result of manipulation, of fabricated context, of forced contrast.

Because Justified's theme song is so bad, even According to Jim might seem like small-screen Nirvana afterward.

But with a third-season premiere that's as good if not better than anything this unique modern-day western has offered so far, Justified continues to raise the bar for scripted prime time.

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