'Justified: City Primeval' Brings Timothy Olyphant and His Stetson Back for a Perfect TV Revival

Welcome back Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, this time in Detroit in a miniseries that has hit streaming eight years after the original 'Justified' wrapped up.
Sarah Ward
Published on August 24, 2023

The man knows how to rock a hat: Timothy Olyphant (Full Circle), that is. He knows how to play a determined lawman with a piercing stare and an unassailable sense of honour, too, and television has been all the better for it for nearing two decades. Pop culture's revival culture has benefited as well — first with HBO's 2004–06 western masterpiece Deadwood returning as 2019's Deadwood: The Movie, and now with 2010–15's US Marshal drama Justified making a comeback as miniseries Justified: City Primeval. Olyphant was perfect in both the first time around, and proves the same the second. Indeed, Deadwood: The Movie's only problem was that it was just a made-for-TV film, not a another season; Justified: City Primeval's sole issue is that it spans only eight episodes, and that a next date with the Stetson-wearing Raylan Givens hasn't yet been locked in

Streaming Down Under via Disney+, this continuation of Justified's initial six seasons arrives eight years after the show ended for viewers, but also finds Raylan with a 15-year-old daughter. It's with Willa (Vivian Olyphant, Timothy Olyphant's real-life offspring) that he's hitting the road when a couple of criminals reroute their plans. Now based in Miami, Florida rather than Justified's Harlan, Kentucky, Raylan is meant to be taking Willa to camp, only to be forced to detour to Detroit, Michigan to testify. It isn't a brief stop, after the Deputy US Marshal makes the wrong impression on Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David, Nope), then is personally requested to investigate an assassination attempt against the same jurist — teaming up with local detectives who are adamant about Detroit's particular ways, including Maureen Downey (Marin Ireland, The Boogeyman), Norbert Beryl (Norbert Leo Butz, The Girl From Plainville) and Wendell Robinson (Victor Williams, The Righteous Gemstones).

Timothy Olyphant in 'Justified: City Primeval'.

You can take Raylan out of rural America and into the Motor City, as Justified: City Primeval does, but even with silver hair atop his calm glare he's still Raylan. So, he'll always stride around like a lone gunslinger who has seen it all, will confront anything, and is perennially valiant and resolute — and silently exasperated about humanity's worst impulses, too — as Justified: City Primeval welcomes. New location, passing years, the responsibilities of fatherhood, more and more lowlife crooks: they haven't changed this character, and audiences wouldn't have wanted that to happen. One of Justified: City Primeval's chief joys is how comfortably that Raylan, and Olyphant playing him, steps straight back onto the screen like the figure, thespian and franchise never left.

In Detroit, the Deputy US Marshal meets his latest lawbreaking adversary in Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), aka the Oklahoma Wildman, whose love of singing The White Stripes and Beach Boys songs is only matched by his penchant for wreaking illicit havoc. Mansell is ruthless, including in committing murder, and also enlisting reluctant past acquaintance Marcus "Sweety" Sweeton (Vondie Curtis-Hall, Blue Bayou) — a musician who almost made it onto George Clinton's 'Atomic Dog' and now owns a dive bar — in his violent rampages. He's equally calculating in using his girlfriend Sandy Stanton (Adelaide Clemens, Under the Banner of Heaven) to conjure up a shakedown scam with ties to the Albanian mob, all while promising her that they'll get a big payday and get away. Even his attorney Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis, an Oscar-nominee for King Richard), who has seen more than her fair share of dirtbags because that's the gig, knows that he's a sociopath.

'Justified: City Primeval'

Seasoned Justified viewers will spy Justified: City Primeval's overarching narrative path going in. As long as they've seen a crime drama before, newcomers will as well. Raylan has a villain to take down in a deeply corrupt world — but, taking over from the OG series' creator Graham Yost (Silo, and an executive producer here), fellow Justified veterans Dave Andron (Snowfall) and Michael Dinner (Electric Dreams) can't be accused of connecting easy dots or making obvious choices. Both before and now, Justified has always been as much about painting rich portraits of its characters, good and bad, as it has been about its righteous-versus-evil face-offs. So, Justified: City Primeval delivers ample intriguing new additions, most of which pair up with Raylan so winningly that they could earn their own spinoffs.

A series about Raylan and Willa, her teen rebelliousness bouncing off his perpetually wearied mood? The younger Olyphant makes a memorable impression, and adds seeing more of that dynamic to the wishlist. An odd-couple cop setup with Raylan and Robinson? That'd also work. Raylan's pursuit of the unhinged Mansell, and the latter's eagerness to keep it going, give Justified: City Primeval a compelling duel — and plenty of mirroring; they both drip charm, are whip-smart and canny, just on opposite sides of the law-and-order divide — but Raylan and Wilder are the show's meatiest duo. Sharing a sense of exhaustion, the Marshal and the lawyer each understand what it's like to ride through a murky and compromised world, endeavour to try to find a way to cope, and have to live with the costs. (That Ellis is as phenomenal as the older Olyphant assists.)

'Justified: City Primeval'

2023 marks 30 years since Raylan first appeared in print, in the pages of iconic crime writer Elmore Leonard's 1993 novel Pronto. While he returned in 1995 sequel Riding the Rap, it was 2001 short story Fire in the Hole that inspired Justified. Once the show became a hit, Leonard wrote 2012's Raylan, in what'd become his last published tome before his death in 2013. To revisit the character with Justified: City Primeval, however, Andron and Dinner dive into the author's back catalogue elsewhere, adapting and reworking 1980's City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. The text's full title virtually screams for Raylan. On the screen, he slides in so seamlessly that it feels like he's always been in this tale. That's a testament to a series that doesn't just know its protagonist, but the work of the man who created him. Raylan might be Leonard's best character, but his bibliography is a wealth of riches — complete with Out of Sight, which became Steven Soderbergh's sparkling crime caper and shares a connection to Justified: City Primeval; and Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino turned into the sublime Jackie Brown.

Justified: City Primeval excels at bringing Raylan Givens back to the screen, and Timothy Olyphant in the part. It's fantastic as a Leonard adaptation. And, although visually filled with thematically appropriate shadows, it's as shiny as Raylan's badge as a revival. The widespread trend keeps embracing beloved programs from years gone by, but the difference between the very best — see: Twin Peaks, aka the most stunning example there is and likely ever will be, and also Deadwood: The Movie, Veronica Mars, and the recent Party Down and Futurama — and the rest is considerable. Justified was a superb modern western from the get-go. Now Justified: City Primeval is a first-rate city-set neo-western that knows how to feature its familiar ingredients expertly, evolve them, and use them to comment on what changes and doesn't about humanity.

Check out the trailer for Justified: City Primeval below:

Justified: City Primeval streams via Disney+.

Images: FX.

Published on August 24, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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