Move aside, brooding antiheroes (that’s you, Dick Whitman) — there’s a new character archetype in town. Descending from the likes of Han Solo and John McClane, it’s the manly man with a roguish charm, cheeky smile, endless stream of wisecracks and a slow, Southern, trou-dropping drawl. It was epitomized in Sawyer (Josh Holloway) from “Lost,” Jason Lee tried it and failed in “Memphis Beat,” but the torch carries on with the macho main muchacho of FX’s “Justified,” Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who — combined with the poise and quickdraw of Dirty Harry — is the coolest cat in a cowboy hat south of the Mason-Dixon line. Come to think, north of it, too.
Season Two Premiere
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
Season one of “Justified” brought U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens back to his home state of Kentucky, reassigned to a Lexington post after a possibly (but probably) unprovoked shooting of a Miami gangster. It’s a begrudging return — coming home to a criminally active father, a newly remarried ex he’s still in love with and an alarming number of neo-Nazis and meth-heads, it’s clear why Givens skipped town in the first place.
Overall, the first season of “Justified” was marvelous, creating a Southern rural community without depicting every inhabitant as a backwoods lout (similar to “Winter’s Bone,” except fast-paced and funny). In one of the most profound representations of a villain since Ben Linus on “Lost,” we witnessed the fascinating evolution of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, “The Shield”) from skinhead to soldier of god. Most important, the season made us fall in love with Raylan Givens, effervescently grinning and slinging zingers even in the most tense situations (like shootouts!) with the knowledge that he could pull out his sidearm and blow 12-gallon hat-sized holes through fools if he felt like it.
The second season premiere begins by replaying the final moments of last season’s killer, though frustratingly unresolved, finale and wraps up the dangling plot strands by the start of the opening credits. It’ll be perplexing for first-time viewers of “Justified,” but they just need to sit tight, as the hammer for the new season-long storyline gets pulled back promptly.
After the dust settles, Givens and his partner (Erica Tazel) embark on a routine track-down of a sex offender, which leads to the introduction for this season’s big bads, the Bennett clan — the region’s weed-growing kingpins — comprised of the quietly ruthless, 180-proof, apple pie-swilling Mags (Margo Martindale, “The Riches”) and her three sons. Jeremy Davies (“Lost”) plays one of these kids, a gimpy, surprisingly vicious-for-his-scrawny-figure maniac. And while it’s nice to see Davies back on the tube, he has yet to learn the art of enunciation and all his dialogue comes through as barely audible whispers.
The addition of these colorful characters is welcome, but it only worsens a problem evident throughout the first season. “Justified” does a wonderful job of developing Givens and a pocketful of the more important antagonists, but every other secondary character has nothing to do but stand around as fodder for Givens to bounce his jokes off of. All these new inclusions mean even less time for development of crucial persons of interest who have already been around for an entire season, like Givens’s boss, and especially his partner — an African-American woman who could spark a captivating study of race relations in the American South, but instead is only given a few lines in the premiere to mention her discomforting status in that society.
Otherwise, the premiere is “Justified” at its nerve-racking and laugh-out-loud funny best, setting off a series of intriguing mysteries that will gradually unearth throughout the season — why in tarnation Boyd Crowder is blowing up mines, for one.
There’s only room in this town for one show — with a script as lethally effective as a six-shooter, first-class direction and great performances of great characters, it has to be “Justified.”