Blu-Ray Review: Fantastic First Season of ‘Justified’ Gets HD Treatment

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CHICAGO – The first season of “Justified” was one of my favorites of 2010, but quality TV seasons don’t always translate to quality home releases. It seems as though studios are still unclear as to which shows to release standard-only and even when they do make the upgrade decision to HD it doesn’t always come with interesting special features. Luckily for TV producers, “Justified: The Complete First Season” can now serve as the model — great show, great video transfer, great audio, great special features, great release. This is one of the best HD TV seasons yet released. Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

I’ve proclaimed the greatness of the writing and acting on “Justified” several times (and will do so again later in this piece and in our second season premiere review in a couple weeks) but the first thing I noticed about “Justified: The Complete First Season” is the cinematography. This is also one of the best-looking shows on television with a fantastic visual style that amplifies the mood perfectly, something I never really appreciated until I got to see it on Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer is a beauty, as is the audio mix.

Now, why should you watch “Justified”? It balances character-driven, multi-episode drama along with the immensely popular mystery-of-the-week style that has become the staple of cable television. One of things that I love so much about “Justified” is how completely the writers nail the Elmore Leonard habit of extreme violence coming completely out of nowhere. In a way that would inspire Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, Leonard virtually patented a storytelling style in which the threat of violence wasn’t foreshadowed as much as always one trigger finger away from existence. “Justified” gets a lot about the Leonard style right, including his brilliant use of moral gray areas, but the suspense created by being believably unsure of what’s going to happen next could be its greatest accomplishment.

Justified: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 18th, 2011
Justified: The Complete First Season was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 18th, 2011
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

In case you’re totally unfamiliar, Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood,” “Damages”) gets the role that he’s been working toward his entire career in Raylan Givens. Just as he almost riffs off the Western Sheriff he created in “Deadwood,” the excellent Walton Goggins tweaks the righteous sleaze he perfected on “The Shield.” Both talented actors play men willing to take the law into their own hands to justify their definition of right and wrong. They’re both incredible.

So many great shows have been about the gray area between right and wrong but rarely as a show been so built around that concept as “Justified”. The entire premiere season is about characters, both good guys and bad, going to extremes in pursuit of what they think is right. Even Goggins’ Neo-Nazi believes he is doing the right thing fighting for his race and against a corrupt government. Goggins is brilliant in that he doesn’t merely turn Crowder into the caricature he easily could have become and he only gets more interesting every time he pops up in his limited role.

This is Olyphant’s show 100%. He’s spectacular and should have been Emmy-nominated for his perfect blend of smooth-talking humor and tough-guy body language. It’s the best work he’s ever done and that’s coming from someone who’s always been a fan.

As great as Timothy is, the key to FX’s best show is the same as most great programs — the writing. This is spectacular drama, particularly the pilot, of the kind almost never seen on network TV any more and usually relegated to pay channels like HBO or Showtime. Creator Graham Yost (“Boomtown”) and his team of writers have crafter an amazing blend of Leonard-esque dry wit, social commentary, action, and character drama. The first episode alone makes this set worth buying.

And the special features are spectacular. Four of the thirteen episodes feature a commentary and there are featurettes that are actually informative and interesting (including interviews with Leonard himself) instead of just typical talking-head junk.

Special Features:
o “Long Hard Times to Come” Music Video
o 4 Cast and Crew Commentaries
o “Season Two: A Look Ahead”
o “What Would Elmore Do?”
o “The Story of Justified”
o “Justified: Meet the Characters”
o “Shooting For Kentucky”
o “The Marshals”

‘Justified: The Complete First Season’ was released by Sony on January 18th, 2011. It stars Timothy Olyphant, Erica Tazel, Walton Goggins, Natalie Zea, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, and Nick Searcy. It was created by Graham Yost. The release is not rated and runs 560 minutes. content director Brian Tallerico

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