I don’t know how I keep on being floored by Justified. I’ve been watching it almost since the beginning, so you’d think that by now, I’d be accustomed to how fantastic the show is. Yet as we start season three, my nerves are still jumping, and I’m still watching the same episode three times in a row.
There are numerous reasons why the series is the best scripted program on television. “The Gunfighter” was all about the one at the top of that list: the acting. This is a cast that is sterling all the way down the call sheet, and in the premiere it got a major boost from two actors that I believe have never quite gotten their due.
It starts, of course, with Timothy Olyphant, who should have a mantel full of trophies by now. He isn’t just really good at playing Raylan Givens; he is Raylan Givens, to the point where sitting across from him at last week’s Television Critics Association press tour, I was actually intimidated, because he’d so firmly established himself in my mind as someone I should be intimidated by. Yet to define him merely by his intense presence would be a mistake. He’s played humor and vulnerability just as well. Every week there’s something he does that I keep thinking about well into the next week. For my money, the man is on the short list of actors of whom I am honestly in awe.
Then there’s Walton Goggins. It’s hard to imagine that Justified almost went forward without Boyd Crowder, isn’t it? As much as I appreciated The Shield, I have to say that I honestly don’t think of Shane Vendrell anymore. When I think of Walton Goggins, the first name that comes to mind is Boyd Crowder. I’m so glad he’s still here to throw Raylan through a conference room window into his boss’s office.
Amongst the ensemble, I’ll always have a soft spot for Jacob Pitts, whose Tim Gutterson might have only gotten two big scenes, but still made an impression. His deadpan delivery and take-no-bull attitude makes Tim a perfect foil for Raylan. And how about Joelle Carter, whose Ava Crowder swung a mean frying pan? All these characters have something memorable about them.
But oh, the guest actors this week were amongst the cream of the crop. Graham Yost went back to Boomtown to recruit this season’s big bad, Neal McDonough. Years later, I still remain bitter that McDonough never won an Emmy for his role on that series as Deputy District Attorney David McNorris. He’s another one of those actors that knocks me back on my heels, and he definitely knows how to play a villain. The idea of him going head-to-head with Timothy Olyphant has me on pins and needles just thinking about it.
And then there was Dexter star Desmond Harrington playing the villain of the week. I’ve said before that Harrington is ridiculously underrated, and after seeing his character on the Showtime series pretty much wasted (pun not intended) this season, it made me happy to see him in a new role. Like McDonough, he’s got villainous chops; he once played a bad guy with no soul in the flick Ghost Ship. He was completely different from Joey Quinn, and really made me believe he was unhinged. His one major scene with Olyphant was a treat as well. Too bad he couldn’t stick around longer.
An episode like “The Gunfighter” is a delight for me as a TV fan. To see three of my all-time favorite actors appear on a show that I know will give them material that is worthy of their talents? There’s not much more I could ask for. As I type this, I’m watching the episode for the third time straight, and I’m still enjoying every second of it — because I’ve seen enough Justified to know it’s always going to be in a class unto itself.