Raylan Givens, U.S. marshal, is one lean, lone, ornery hombre.
Actually, he's more like one of many, because the stereotype is anything but scarce in TV and movies. So when you meet Givens in the new FX series "Justified," you might feel overwhelmingly underwhelmed.
Oh, another muttering existential hero who barely ever registers an emotion; what a revelation! The fact that the character was created by Elmore Leonard, one of the series' executive producers, doesn't really help.
As played by tightly wound, casually handsome Timothy Olyphant (who had a roguish mustache in "Deadwood"), Givens does look darn good in his jeans and his spotless, cocky cowboy hat. He walks the walk, all right, but he talks way too much of the talk, as did most of the other characters in the mannered and self-conscious series premiere Tuesday night.
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The first impression made by the series is particularly disappointing because it was produced for the FX network, where standards aren't artfully high but where the specialty is edgy, cryptic, potty-mouthed dramas that mutilate the old proverbial envelope ("Nip/Tuck," "Damages"). Although "Justified" qualifies as cryptic, and its mouth is plenty potty, it definitely lacks edge, the most important quality of the three.
In fact, it can get downright sleepy between killings. It moseys. It meanders. The narrative stops in its tracks for long, stretched-out scenes that are remarkably uneventful.
Fairly early in the premiere, Givens drops by the house of an old girlfriend, Ava Crowder, played with near-satirical sultriness by Joelle Carter in a clinging dress. The two talk, and flirt, and talk. Meanwhile, in another part of town, a pair of Neanderthals stages a bizarre daylight robbery, which writer-producer Graham Yost and director Michael Dinner show in considerable detail.
The robbery scene ends as the junky getaway pickup truck zooms down Main Street, and we cut to — what? Good grief, back to Ava's house, where the pair are still blabbering on and still nursing drinks. Much the same thing happens in the second episode, airing next week: Givens is preoccupied with his personal life while no-good mangy polecats commit more crime.
The population in Harlan County, Ky., consists largely of rednecks and good old boys who speak their Elmore Leonard-like dialogue in an irritating hillbilly drawl. Olyphant does his best to make the character of Givens attractive, enigmatic and wily. He doesn't raise his voice, he just raises his gun, and only after a long hunker-down with whomever he intends to shoot.
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The FX drama airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays with repeats during the week on cable Channel 31.