Review: ‘Justified: The Complete First Season’ on DVD

“Justified: The Complete First Season” came out on DVD while I was at press tour (or possibly while I was recovering from press tour; that whole period is a haze), so I didn’t get a chance to review it at the time. But in a way, the timing proved useful, since I was able to get an answer at press tour to one big question that wasn’t discussed in any of the disc’s ample bonus features. (At least not the ones I watched/listened to.)

The set itself is pretty spiffy. I’m always a believer that the episodes themselves need to be good enough to buy, regardless of the bonus features, and there are plenty of terrific episodes here, particularly in the back half of the season, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment. Timothy Olyphant is marvelous in the part he was born to play, 21st century gunslinger Raylan Givens of the US Marshals service, Walton Goggins is just as good as his slippery nemesis Boyd Crowder, and Graham Yost and his writers have ably transplanted as much of the voice and narrative style of Elmore Leonard as they could.

And as often happens on season one DVD sets, there are a ton of bonus features about the series’ origins, including a feature on the writing titled, aptly, “What Would Elmore Do?,” a more expansive look at the construction of the series called “Shooting for Kentucky,” several other making-of pieces and even an extended interview with real-life Marshal Charles Almanza, who serves as the technical advisor on both this show and “In Plain Sight.” If you want to know how the sausage gets made, you won’t lack for options.

The one thing that doesn’t get discussed (unless it comes up in one of the commentaries I didn’t get around to) is the evolution of the show’s storytelling from largely self-contained episodes in the season’s first half to a mostly serialized narrative in its second half.

I wasn’t quite as down on the standalones as many of you guys (I happened to make the move to HitFix around the season’s mid-point, so you can find my early reviews here and my later reviews here), as I thought one of the season’s strongest episodes was the one where Raylan traveled to California in search of the runaway dentist. But it was clear that the season’s second half was much more compelling overall than its first.

So when the “Justified” cast took the stage on press tour’s last day, I asked Yost about that, and whether season two would more heavily serialized than season one.

“We had a good long talk with John Landgraf and everyone at FX before we started Season 2,” Yost said. “What we did in the first season was have more standalone episodes that would also have things that would set up where we were going with the larger arcs. But the first half of the season was more standalone, and then it built momentum until we were pretty much in full serialized for the last four. This year, we discussed that we would have also have more standalone episodes because, hopefully, we are going to get a new audience this year. There will be more people who have seen it or just heard about it or whatever that will tune in. So we need to have those hours that kind of stand alone. So it’s more, sort of, our first four episodes four or five episodes have those, but (at the same time) while we are building our bigger serialized arc and then from that point on. So instead of it being, last year, sort of 50/50 or two-thirds standalone, whatever, this year we are pulling up that serialized element so that that, really, more than even the second half of the season. We know that that’s what the people who watch it really crave.”

I’ve seen the first three episodes of season two (which starts a week from this Wednesday at 10 p.m.), and they’re really good. I’ll have a review next week, and at some point between now and the premiere I’ll also post interviews I did with Goggins and Natalie Zea while I was at the tour.