I believe I’ve been told to “let it go” far more often by countless supposedly supportive people in my life than young Queen Elsa’s inner voice told that to her. Anyone who does actually know me knows that’s far easier said than done, lately, espeically. I don’t need yet again to rattle off the reasons; if you’re truly curious, that’s why there are archives.
But when I began to see all of the hype and favorable attention being relished on the long-awaited sequel to a show that timing had me miss out on any direct involvement in not once, but twice, my feelings of FOMO reemerged dramatically. It became pretty clear that when FX debuted JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL eaflier this week that it was going to be one of this summer’s premiere series, continuing a remarkable track record for one of the few survivors of what is now something we fondly look back on as the golden age of cable networks, all the more poignant in light of the remarks that its new owner Bob AIger attached to it last week. And the fact that it is produced by my most recent full-time employer only enhances my conflicted feelings.
I still deeply care about many people who survive in both companies, though that list diminishes daily. And to a person virtually all of them have extolled to me the positives of the original 78 episodes, which brought the stellar talents of Elmore Leonard to television. I was fortunate enough to have read the initial treament for JUSTIFIED along with his novel FIRE IN THE HOLE during my last months at FX. I was, of course, familiar with Leonard’s theatrical prowess, especially the irresistible GET SHORTY. I knew darn well there was something special there, and although FX was seeking at the time to have more direct production control over their series, this Sony-supplied show was good enough to justify (pun intended) its worth. The six seasons that told the story of vigilante U.S. marshal Raylan Givens, masterfully portrayed by the sexy and compelling Timothy Olyphant, were award-winning and captivating. When familiar FX faces like Walton Goggins and Margo Martindale were added in later seasons as foils for Givens, they, of course, won awards.
But I never saw a single minute of that show because I simply couldn’t get over the fact that FX let me go shortly before they committed to its production, and it just was too painful for me to see it. And it just so happened I began to consult with Sony after the series had concluded production in spring 2015 and my initial priorities were to focus on what opportunties were ahead rather than report on what was on the air. So I didn’t even fully embrace its victory lap, one albeit at significant lower ratings level than what it had premiered to in 2010.
When Quentin Tarantino spoke at an all-hands meeting shortly after ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD premiered, he related to us a conversation he had on the set that teased those of in attendance, one that Mathew Plale of JoBlo related earlier this week:
On the verge of the premiere of miniseries Justified: City Primeval next week, its origins have become clear, with writer/director Quentin Tarantino having influenced its early development.
As it turns out, Quentin Tarantino had a hand in getting the project off the ground back in 2018. While filming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with Justified star Timothy Olyphant (who played Lancer star James Stacy in the movie), Tarantino got to talking about the Elmore Leonard book “City Primeval” as a potential inspiration for a season of the FX series.
While the pitch from Tarantino and Olyphant didn’t pan out right away, Justified: City Primeval co-showrunner Michael Dinner was able to use it once he got FX on board for a continuation, telling IndieWire, “They said, ‘What are you thinking about doing?’ And I said, ‘Are you familiar with “City Primeval”?’ They said, ‘Yeah, Tim pitched that to us a year ago.’ I said, ‘Well, let me pitch it to you as its own thing, and you tell me if you want to do it as its own thing or as a season of “Justified.””
So I knew that the drumroll to bring back Raylon Givens had already started. But as you know these things take time, and by the time the reboot was commissioned, Sony had departed me as well. And then with delays caused by the pandemic and executive shuffling, what was in the works then didn’t get to the screen until this week.
I honestly debated about whether or not I actually could sit down and watch given my still-conflicted feelings. More days that not, I still cry myself to sleep at the thought of the worlds I once was an integral part of now being increasingly distant memories, and how time, schedules and, even still, COVID paranoia so consistently gets in the way of even a lunch.
But when I listened incessantly to the non-stop praise being extolled on it by virtually everyone on the Prestige TV Beat at THE RINGER, and read recaps like this one from OBSESSED’s Sophie Brookover, I finally had to give in. Her quick summation of how a fish out of water antihero like Givens wound up in an even more alien world to the one he infiltrated in the original series should provide context:
When an attempted carjacking in Florida becomes an ersatz prisoner-transport situation, Raylan and Willa find themselves on an unexpected detour to Detroit. Raylan’s performance on the witness stand piques the ire of brilliant defense lawyer Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis) and the interest of Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David). Raylan—eager to hit the road with Willa for a father-daughter road trip back to Miami—reluctantly accepts the assignment to assist in the investigation of Judge Guy’s recent escape from a car bombing. As is so often the case for Raylan, a fairly straightforward situation grows increasingly complex and dangerous.
The car bombing turns out to have been not political, but simple petty vengeance by a white man angry that his mother is sleeping with a Black judge. Judge Guy and his clerk turn up dead, anyway, thanks to chilling new nemesis Clement Mansel, aka the Oklahoma Wildman (Boyd Holbrook). Detroit police assume the murders are part of a conspiracy to put an end to the judge’s infamous blackmail side hustle, which is the worst-kept secret among Detroit’s powerful. Instead, they were simply victims of bad timing and Mansel’s short temper.
Raylan can’t leave town now that there’s a real case to solve, but the ease with which Mansel gets close to Willa shows him she can’t stay. The situation devolves spectacularly from there, with everyone from Carolyn’s father figure Sweetie (Vondie Curtis-Hall) to the Albanian mafia getting messily involved. It’s twisty, crackingly good television.
Ellis and Hall are outstanding. Holbrook emerges as a force as layered and as formidable as Olyphant’s character, and, from what I’m told, as compelling portrayed as the ones which Goggins and Martindale scored awards with.
Yes, I watched the first two episodes in a binge. Yes, I’ll watch the other six as they drop over this summer. And I think now just may be the time to finally catch up with the original 78, unless, of course, my schedule somehow fills up again. I’m slighly less bitter. Just a little envious. I’m hoping that’s OK with you.
And I’ll only say this much for now: slowly, but surely, it’s starting to. And should anyone with an FX or Sony tie see this, please know that I’ll always find time for you since your schedules are perpetually way busier than me.
The short answer to the rhetorical question this all started with is “no”, but we know in my case there had to be an explanation. But I’m finally starting to let go. Can you?
Until next time…