Justified: City Primeval earns its revival

Justified: City Primeval (FX Network)

Raylan Givens’ return to television proves more than justified.

How does anyone justify a revival? The original Justified gave viewers a conclusion in the first 30 minutes and an epilogue with the last 16. It gave Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) a fitting third act, living in Miami as a part-time dad to his daughter and finally enjoying freedom from the town he worked so hard to escape. So how does a creative team go from “we dug coal together?” to that nearly happy ending to a brand-new Givens tale? The simple answer is to head north. 

Justified: City Primeval doesn’t take long to make it clear we’re not in Harlan anymore. The opening shot immediately gives the audience the Everglades and an airboat with Willa Givens (Vivian Olyphant) overseeing it all. Alas, the Givenses’ (and the audience’s) time in the Sunshine State is short-lived. Raylan returns with ice cream before transporting his daughter to behavioral camp for breaking a peer’s nose. Soon after, a car crash forces the US Marshall to head north to testify against the drug dealer responsible for the collision.

Once the setting changes from the Everglades to Detroit, the color temperature goes from a sunny and bright atmosphere to a blue and ultraviolent location. Gone is the original theme song by Gangstagrass and the hills of Kentucky familiar to fans of the original series. In its place is a title card of Justified: City Primeval before a Detroit background. 

Justified: City Primeval (FX Network)
Boyd Holbrook takes lounging and makes it fashion. (FX Network)

Everything in the Motor City courthouse, however, reminds viewers of what made Raylan Givens’ first TV foray so iconic. Judge Guy (Keith David) and Raylan engage in sarcastic repartee about how the lawman won’t be able to testify if held in contempt of court. Later, a brief mention of Raylan taking the drug dealer and his friend out for fast food before dropping them off at the courthouse shows those new to the character–and reminds those familiar with him–how unusual an officer he is. It’s the perfect way to reenter the world of Justified

Justified: City Primeval’s main villain Clement Mansel (Boyd Holbrook), known as the Oklahoma Wildman, is introduced through a carjacking. To truly put his personal stamp on it, he commits the crime backed by a hilariously terrible self-sung cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Clement plays like a greatest hits album of Justified’s most terrifying villains with shades of Boyd Crowder and Robert Quarles. When Clement walks into Sweety’s (Vondie Curtis Hall) bar to retrieve a gun for an upcoming heist, the staging suggests the Devil Himself just walked in. This gets emphasized by the lyrics of Funkadelic’s “Good to Your Earhole.” Clement may not be there to kill the bartender softly, but he wants information and’ll certainly get rough to get it.  

One of the best things to come from this revival is Raylan’s past slowly but surely coming to haunt him. There are nice callbacks to the original series, including a promise he’ll be out of Detroit in 24 hours once he catches the suspects and Willa’s desire to return to Harlan to see their family history. 

It’s the perfect way to reenter the world of Justified

At the end of the original pilot, Winona said that Raylan was the angriest man she ever knew. That anger remains, but it’s much more reserved now. He lets the Detroit police department take over investigations. He’s not threatening to shoot someone for misbehaving. 

Still, the rage remains. When Clement brings up what happened in Miami with Tommy Banks, it unfurls. There’s a genuine fear in Raylan that a murderer is walking the streets of Detroit. “For the first time in your life, just say ‘yes, Dad,’” he demands, Olyphant’s voice shaking. It’s a much different side of Raylan, one seeking to be both the hero and a protective dad at once.  

Clement Mansel already seems poised to be a top-five villain. Willa proves an excellent foil to Raylan, breaking the rules as he once did. Together, they, well, justify Justified: City Primeval’s existence. These two new players in Raylan’s world let this reboot feel alike enough to be a seventh season and unique enough to stand apart.

Justified: City Primeval flashes its badge currently on the FX Network and Hulu.

Justified: City Primeval Trailer:


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