Premiered March 16 at 10pm
FX has always had really good pilots. With a few exceptions, like “Dirt,” the series premieres of shows like “The Shield,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Thief,” “The Riches,” and others have all at least showed tremendous promise, mostly for the new universes they create and the complex characters crafted in just an hour. It’s like the intensity of an HBO series with commercial breaks, and I for one think that’s it’s one of the strongest networks out there. Its latest offering is absolutely up to par, immediately fashioning what has been described as a modern-day Robin Hood out of lead character Marshal Raylan Givens, who delivers ultimatums to criminals in the style of the Old West and struts around with his cowboy hat on wherever he goes. He’s an extraordinarily compelling protagonist, and Timothy Olyphant, formerly of “Deadwood” and introduced to modernity last season on “Damages,” is the perfect person to play him. Starting out in Miami reminded me instantly of “Dexter,” but the speedy transplant to Kentucky makes this show able to stand on its own two legs. Walton Goggins was born to play a hero-turned-villain, and hopefully his Boyd Crowder will become a regular character on this show since he’s a perfect nemesis for Raylan, and Goggins’ work here is easily as good as his performance was on the later seasons of “The Shield.” I was particularly impressed acting-wise with Joelle Carter as Ava Crowder, who was instantly flirtatious and charming, and her relationship with both Boyd and Raylan should be fascinating to watch as it develops over the coming season. And then there’s Natalie Zea, who I’ll watch in anything (most recently “Hung” and “Dirty Sexy Money”). She only appeared in the last five minutes of the episode, despite a brief cameo by her hands midway through, but she has already made her mark on both Raylan and me as a viewer. I’m so intrigued to get to know these characters, and it seems that the rural Kentucky setting, and Raylan’s familiarity with it, should enable this is to be a fully engaging and original show. It’s certainly intense, proven by the fact that in this town (or rather, state), criminals recklessly pull guns on cops and shoot at them to keep them from doing their job. Law enforcement there is sure to be a tight-knit and tricky business, and I think it’s going to be extraordinarily interesting. As a character, Raylan definitely is, and standing out when there are so many shows about dysfunctional cops, doctors, and lawyers on the air is a wonderful and formidable thing.
How will it work as a series? The question of whether Boyd becomes a regular, and Ava for that matter, will likely be answered by the next episode, but even if they’re not central to the continuing storyline, there should be more than enough inbred criminals that Raylan has had dealings with of some sort in the past to keep this show running for a long time. It’s like any cop show, but with a whole state full of miscreants to give the law enforcers a headache.
How long will it last? FX treates its drama series very well, and, with the exception of “Over There” and “Thief,” has renewed pretty much all of its shows in recent years for a second season. I think that the show’s positive reviews and ratings should guarantee it another go-round, and I expect to hear that news sooner rather than later since that tends to be the way cable networks operate.
Pilot grade: A-