Is Justified a Western?

The premiere episode of FX’s new series Justified aired last night. So, is it a western?  Is Harlan County, Kentucky, indeed (as FX advertising claims) the  “21st century Wild West”?

Well, Justified is certainly a post-western, consciously drawing on and reinventing traditional genre conventions. The series alludes to those conventional westerns in several ways: by casting Timothy Olyphant in the lead role (and thereby alluding to his earlier role in Deadwood, connecting, via the actor, the characters of Seth Bullock and Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens); via the character’s signature clothing (Stetson, cowboy boots, gun holstered at his hip); and a number of other smaller ways as well.

On the wall of the Chief Deputy’s Lexington office is a large poster for the film Tombstone, a visual reminder of the series’ awareness of its western roots. There’s a nice moment when Raylan meets up with old friend and new enemy Boyd Crowder that is reminiscent of Deadwood exchanges between Bullock and Swearengen—they toss back a shot glass of moonshine together.

And Raylan is the fastest gun in the west (or, rather, the east, or, well, probably anywhere). His fast draw speed places him in a long line of western heroes. He’s fast enough to draw and shoot first against a man who already has his gun in hand.

That said, the first episode was very attentive to establishing the place of the series in Kentucky, and the landscape of the series is that of eastern mountains and valleys. Justified seems serious in acknowledging its debt to the genre western, but it also seems serious in depicting a setting that is specifically Appalachian and not western.

So if you’re interested in the American West, should you watch Justified?

I think it’s worth a continued look. At the very least, it’s good to see Timothy Olyphant on screen, and, boy, is he looking good. He seems younger than in his role as Bullock, and he wears jeans and a black shirt as well as he wears his Stetson. I will also be curious to see if the series continues to make allusions to western conventions and to specific westerns. Why use the poster in the Chief Deputy’s office to highlight Tombstone and the OK Corral? A hint of what might be in store for Raylan?

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