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‘Justified’ Rides Into the Sunset As One of TV’s Best Shows, If Not One of Its Most Watched

'Justified' Rides Into the Sunset As One of TV's Best Shows, If Not One of Its Most Watched

“Justified” ends tonight, not as one of TV’s most-watched shows nor even one with the full weight of critical opinion behind it, but as a great, and above all, solid, show that succeeded by sticking to its guns. Apart from its off-the-rails fifth season, which at least ended much better than it began, “Justified” never put out an episode without a scene or a line worth jotting down for posterity, some memorable exchange or abrupt change of fortunes that did its Elmore Leonard lineage proud. It’s not hard to understand why Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant’s quick-witted, short-tempered deputy marshal is having so much trouble putting Harlan County behind him. Even after six seasons, it’s a hard place to leave.

READ MORE: ‘Justified’s Finale Did Just Enough to Be Perfect

“Justified” has never been a self-consciously “important” show, but in its last season, it’s returned to its richest theme: The lingering stench of the past, whether it’s familial guilt or the blood legacy of Kentucky’s union-busting coal mining companies, and it’s staged a host of characters from earlier episodes to remind us that the past is never past. Perhaps that parade is more like a funeral procession, since as the show’s unofficial theme song — so much better than its actual one — reminds us, “You’ll never leave Harlan alive” is less a threat than a promise. It’s been a nigh-perfect final run. As “Mad Men” viewers struggle with that show’s disinclination to devoting its finale episodes to overriding plot arcs and character resolutions, I want to tell them that for that kind of satisfaction, they ought to be watching “Justified.”

As we count down the hours towards “Justified’s” finale, these are some of the tributes critics have paid to the show in its glorious twilight, and a reminder that it’s never too late to start. (Past episodes are available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, and on Blu-ray/DVD)

Noel Murray, A.V. Club

It’s hard to copy “Justified” though, because the show is so unassuming. Each season thus far has ended with a different version of Kentucky musician Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and over the past six years the series has established an aesthetic similar to a low-key guitar-slinging troubadour: making music so simple that it seems like anyone could do it. But not everyone is Darrell Scott, just like not everyone is Elmore Leonard. The main reason why Leonard was able to work so well within his own rules is that he had a vivid imagination and a masterful ear for dialogue, which meant he didn’t need much more than a twisty plot and some strong personalities to fill the page. “Justified’s” team has also trusted that this is enough. Like a great songwriter, they’ve just picked out a few chords, and then sung something honest.

Adam Epstein, The Atlantic

Even as the show took audiences through rural poverty and the criminal underworld of Appalachia, it was always funny, because it never took itself too seriously—it figured out a way, as no other show other than “Breaking Bad” has — to at once scrutinize the darkest depths of our society and reveal the comic absurdity of it all. In that way, “Justified” was innovative and quite unique, but not in such a pronounced manner that it could be mentioned alongside the other transformative shows of the era.

Eric Deggans, NPR

Given the explosion of new series in today’s TV world, I expect it won’t be long before a few more Westerns pop up to help fill screens of all sizes and types. In the right creative hands, it’s a stylish, uniquely American setting to explore questions of good, evil, imperialism, racism, sexism, violence and much more. Still, as the ballad of Raylan, Boyd and Ava winds down tonight on “Justified,” fans of great western TV should savor the last moments of this amazing example of the genre. Because it may be a good, long while before you see many more shows like it on television.

Adam Epstein, QZ

So if it wasn’t influential, and its plot wasn’t very innovative, and its themes were well-trodden, what made Justified worthy of its place on the Mount Rushmore of 21st century TV dramas?

To say nothing of its uniformly excellent writing and acting, Justified was, perhaps more than any other show, one that knew precisely what it was and what it wanted to accomplish. It was always perfectly comfortable in its own skin, and despite a few missteps along the way, it refused to be anything other than its strange, funny, verbose, serpentine self.

Oliver Lyttleton, Playlist

Though the lightness of touch with which it approaches its stories might suggest otherwise (I’d call it a strength), it’s not just simple entertainment, though it is relentlessly entertaining. Like the best crime and Western narratives (“Justified” is both), it uses genre to talk about larger subject matter, be it family, justice, or the increasingly troubled American heartland. 

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

Much like Leonard’s books, “Justified” could suffer from the high-class problem of having too many entertaining characters, which often made the plots more complicated than they ideally should have been…. But the writers never lost sight of who their hero  was, and they let him show off the same cocky, stubborn, sarcastic demeanor against thugs big and small. They had a great character at the center, played by an actor who fit the role as perfectly as that hat fit his head.

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