FX’s Justified wrapped up its six-season run on Tuesday with a fantastic finale that served as quite the perfect final chapter to the story Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. However, even though there has been an outpouring of love for the show since its finale aired, I still don’t believe that Justified has ever gotten the credit it’s deserved for being one of the very best dramas on television over the past six years (okay, Season 5 wasn’t quite up to par with the show’s other seasons, but still), and I think I know why.
Earlier this week, before Justified aired its series finale, HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall wrote a piece about the series, stating how through much of its run, particularly its second and sixth seasons, Justified could “qualify as both a Great Drama and a Fun Drama at the same time.” Sepinwall is, like many other critics who have made similar statements throughout this week, correct in stating that there has been no “great drama” on television quite as fun as Justified, but ultimately, I would argue that it is that fun quality about the show that has made people view it as a lower-tier series compared to some of the Golden Age’s other top dramas, and that’s a real shame.
While Justified was not a revolutionary or groundbreaking series (it didn’t usher in a new a whole new phase of television like The Sopranos or Mad Men did), there is no denying it was a tremendous one, a sprawling story of generations, of people trying to define themselves by more than their pasts or their families, all told in the wonderfully crafted world that is Harlan County. The emotions and relationships between the characters were rich and complex, but the show’s storytelling was often simple and straightforward; unlike many other dramas of this era, Justified never experimented much with its form, instead relying on its terrific dialogue and the inherent fun of its characters (even the villains) to ensure its stories were compelling and entertaining.
And really, while Justified was a captivating crime drama, with some of the most intense exchanges and best villains to ever appear on TV over the past couple of years, “fun” would be the word that I would say best describes the show. Graham Yost has said in multiple interviews this week that he would like for Justified‘s legacy to be that it entertained viewers and that it continues to do so as more and more people discover it now that the entire series is complete, and that’s what Justified never failed to do, even in some of its worst episodes: it entertained.
With so many dark and serious (and excellent) dramas being produced in recent years, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad to The Americans, TV fans today are striving for things to be grittier and edgier; many people want to be shocked and horrified and astounded at extreme violence and jaw-dropping twists. While Justified certainly had its fair share of both (you need only watch the fight scene between Mikey and Katherine from a couple of weeks ago to see just how violent the series could be), that was never its intention. Unlike so many of The Sopranos or Mad Men or Breaking Bad copycats that have tried and failed to be successful, Justified knew what it was and what it wanted to be and let Elmore Leonard’s voice shine before anything else. And a lot of times, Leonard’s voice was just darn funny, from the little ticks he and Yost would give to even smaller, episodic villains to the creation of memorable characters like Wynn Duffy and Constable Bob, who were on opposite sides of the law but guaranteed to make you smile in pretty much any scene they were in.
Then, of course, there’s Raylan and Boyd themselves, whose rapport, even in Justified‘s most tense scenes, never failed to be both engaging and amusing. As Boyd says to Raylan in the finale, we may not believe everything that’s coming out of his criminal mouth, but it sure is fun to listen to, a statement that could be applied to Justified itself. There may have been sometimes during the series’ run where I wasn’t sure why a character made some questionable decisions, or storyline went somewhere I wish it hadn’t, but it was most always an enjoyable experience to watch these events unfold, no matter how they turned out.
Ultimately, the team behind Justified was never concerned with being called a “prestige drama” or “one of the best shows on TV.” They simply sought to make the most fun, entertaining series possible, and with Tuesday’s finale now having aired, I think we can all agree that is exactly what they did. Sure, other “great dramas” may have there comedic moments or funny scenes, but there was nothing like watching a new episode of Justified and praising the stories they were telling from a critic perspective, while also grinning from ear to ear as a fan of the show and these characters.
Justified never apologized for being both a fun and great drama, and hopefully, more people will soon realize that those terms aren’t mutually exclusive, that a show can be both and that no one should try to look down on a series because it’s more witty and charming than chilling and challenging. As great as television is right now, it would be even better if more shows follow Justified‘s lead and embraced how fun they could potentially be.
[Photos via FX]
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