The show centres around Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens, a character created by Elmore Leonard (who’s also an exec producer). He’s something of a throwback, like a Wild West sheriff all about justice, not necessarily the law, speaking softly and drawing fast. It’s enough to make you get poetic. Timothy Olyphant Deadwood, Hitmanis superb; award winning level superb. It’s very easy for ‘strong silent’ types to be dull and flat, but Olyphant (and the writers of course) manage to create a multi-faceted, multi-layered character in just 45 minutes.
The existing team of marshals Givens is joining in Kentucky seemed competent but with only a few lines of dialogue each, they didn’t really get to flesh out their roles. The strength came in characters who I thought were guest actors for the episode, but seem to be in it more long term. Walton Goggins (The Shield) as the primary ‘villain’ of the episode was great, really giving Olyphant someone to play off. And Joelle Carter chewed her way through a Southern accent to make an interesting character too. Both do an impressive job ploughing through some chunky monologues, but no amount of talent could quite hold off my cries of ‘get on with it’.
The story, I’m not so sure about. I think the plot and (I’m assuming) crime-of-the-week will only be there to support the characters and the setting. You could almost count the small Kentucky town as a character in its own right, another throwback– coal mines, white supremacists and religious fanaticism. I suspect this show might be about US Marshals in the same way that Friday Night Lights is about football, i.e. not so much that it really matters.
The comparisons with Deadwood are obvious, Olyphant’s character could easily be a descendent of the Sheriff he played in Deadwood and it looks to be setting up the same sort of themes of law of the badge vs. law of the land. It’s a lot more family friendly though, I’ve seen far more objectionable stuff on CSI. I was impressed with Olyphant’s character, but to be honest the rest left me somewhat cold. There are some interesting tense moments, not knowing how the characters are going to react, but these are interspersed with some really painfully dull speeches that just drone on. While I suspect it’s going to be critically popular, I didn’t really see anything in the pilot that really made me want to tune in next week, but I’m willing to admit I may be wrong on that, so will keep an eye on the reviews and maybe pick it up later in the season.