Here's a last-minute plea from an expert you can trust: Check out Tuesday's season finale of the best TV drama you might not already be watching.
It's not about saving the show. This drama about a laconic U.S. marshal in Kentucky already has been renewed for a fifth season, despite shedding an average 1 million viewers from its robust fourth season debut.
But it is about saving you from TV's plague of formulaic crime dramas. If your idea of pop culture hell is a night with crime-of-the-week shows such as Hawaii Five-0, Bones or Castle, it's time for a tart, Southern-flavored alternative.
Timothy Olyphant (HBO's Deadwood, Live Free or Die Hard) is Raylan Givens, a Stetson-wearing hard case transferred to his Kentucky hometown after killing one too many lawbreakers in — where else? — Miami.
Over 12 episodes this season, fans have seen the show tackle its most complex story line yet: a mystery drug dealer who parachuted into town with a load of cocaine and vanished. Eventually, we learned that Givens' estranged, criminal-minded dad knew who the man was — the local sheriff, known to everyone as Shelby, but whose real name was Drew Thompson.
Last week, the mystery seemed solved. Thompson was in custody, with the bad guys on the verge of comeuppance, including a Mafia kingpin threatened by Thompson's knowledge.
So what's left to tell? Last week's final scene offered a clue, as one of the Mafia guy's henchmen posed as a deliveryman with a surprise gift for Givens' pregnant ex-girlfriend.
As Olyphant said in a recent news conference, the show's motto is simple: "Someone's either going to get f---ed or they're going to get f----ed," he noted, wryly. "That's the best-case scenario."
As a critic writing for a family newspaper, I'd put it differently. Here's why you should tune in Tuesday to Justified.
Raylan Givens rocks … without shouting. Created in an Elmore Leonard short story and given television life by executive producer Graham Yost, Givens is an expert shot, confident brawler and world-weary smart aleck who subverts a wonderful range of cliches about the loner hero. According to Yost, the character's key trait is also the reason why he's the angriest, yet quietest, action hero on television.
"We're just used to all these years of cop shows and stuff of people yelling at each other, and I thought it would be really fun to show somebody that doesn't do that," said the producer. "It works in a world where none of them yell."
It's a show about sharp, smart Southern characters. In a TV world filled with simpleminded Southern caricatures such as Honey Boo-Boo and Duck Dynasty, it's a welcome change to see a Kentucky-set cop show where almost everyone speaks in tart, quippy exchanges. The biggest baddie, Givens' ex-buddy Boyd Crowder, can quote the Bible and classic literature in mesmerizing monologues.
("Nothing brings you peace but the triumph of principles," Crowder said last episode, recalling Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote on the fulfillment that comes from sticking by your own moral code.)
This season Crowder, played by The Shield alum Walton Goggins, also finds love with an ex-girlfriend of Givens, his fiancee Ava. It gives the show a chance to humanize his character as he does whatever it takes to keep his lady from being arrested for a murder she committed last season.
"These are people that come from very violent backgrounds. The irony that love will and is the great redeemer for them is something that is very, very special to me," said Goggins. "You take out the fact that Boyd and Ava kill people, and you kind of look at their relationship, I would put it up against, like, any great relationship that's working today."
It has some of the best guest appearances in TV. Forrest Gump alum Mykelti Williamson is a treat as African-American backwoods crime lord Ellstin Limehouse, and Jere Burns is appropriately slimy as Dixie Mafia player Wynn Duffy.
But no one has knocked a guest star home run on this series like comic Patton Oswalt, playing a hapless, goofy constable Bob Sweeney who takes a serious beating, refusing to tell the bad guys how to find Givens before taking out the hitman tasked with ending his life.
Even though Givens always wins, he never really does. We know he'll beat the bad guys. But Givens often loses big, breaking up with his pregnant girlfriend over his dangerous work life and having a relationship so fractured with his father, that his dad murdered a sheriff in the mistaken belief he was killing his son.
"You're playing an iconic character, and you can only go so far, so the key is to try to figure out how to throw rocks at that guy and how to make the situation complicated enough that that character remains a mystery and remains interesting," Olyphant said. "Because without that, it just looks (boring).
This critic's hunch is that Tuesday's finale will leave you anything but bored.