Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Harlan County, Kentucky, comes to TV again, this time in virtual form on FX's 'Justified'

UPDATE, March 18: The show drew nearly 4.2 million viewers, second most for a premiere on FX.
Harlan County, Kentucky, along the Virginia border, has had a national profile since the coal-mine wars of the 1930s. Now the latest in a series of media treatments makes the county home for “Justified,” a drama premiering tonight at 10 EST on the FX cable channel.

"Harlan will have a new shining television star to illuminate the way people in the country view this once violent town know as “Bloody Harlan,” Jason Edwards writes for the Harlan Daily Enterprise. The main character is U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, who is "transferred back to Kentucky following a shooting incident with a gun thug in Florida." (Photo: Olyphant with Joelle Carter, playing old flame Ava Crowder)

The show didn't have the budget to shoot in southeastern Kentucky, and FX bought it so quickly that Executive Producer Graham Yost didn't have time to travel to the state to condust research, he told Edwards. So, he said, he stuck close to "Fire in the Hole," the Elmore Leonard short story that was named for a coal-mining term and is the basis for the show. Leonard is also an executive producer.

"Yost said he hoped the series would not add to some of the negative stereotyping Kentucky and the area had received in the past, but said some stereotyping would take place," Edwards writes. Yost told him, "Undoubtedly, there will be some people in Harlan who might be offended by this, saying ‘Oh, it is the same old stereotype that we all live up in hollers and meth labs and stuff’ and that is not our intent." (Read more) For an earlier Edwards story, focused more on Yost and his development of the series, click here.

Jeffrey Lee Puckett of The Courier-Journal writes, "Nearly every major character from Harlan County in the first episodes is a thief, killer, white supremacist or all three. The show's Web site refers to Harlan as a “lawless town” and a “21st century wild west,” which prompted one Harlan native to post an eloquent defense of the area. Brandon Goins, who sits on the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce, said that he's reserving judgment until he sees more of the show." Yost told the Louisville paper, “The difficulty is that we're doing a crime show, so you end up with bad guys.” (Read more)

Tom Shales of The Washington Post gave the show a poor review. In it, he writes that "The population consists largely of rednecks and good old boys who speak their Elmore Leonard-like dialogue in an irritating hillbilly drawl" and "a pair of Neanderthals stages a bizarre daylight robbery." Nice.

UPDATE, March 26: Nancy DeWolf Smith writes in The Wall Street Journal, "It is not very often that a TV series invents a new look, or even a new genre. After only two weeks on the air, it may be too soon to gush that way about FX's new drama 'Justified,' but this is one cool show." (Read more)

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