TVGuide.com — The end of the calendar year is a time for lists. In the world of TV criticism, it’s a time for lists that purport to rattle off the 10 best shows (or more!) of the year. As I tried desperately to remember 10 shows I watched this year that I would classify as being deserving of such accolades, I realized two things. First, I realized that the best show I watched in 2018 was actually Justified, which went off the air three years ago. And second, the first was true because 2018 was the year I finally gave up trying to stay current on the glut of new programming every network and streaming service was trying to shove into my eyeballs and just watched whatever the hell I wanted. So yeah, I rewatched Justified.
Let me tell you: It was liberating to return to the crime-ridden hills and hollers of Harlan, Kentucky, and spend time with U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and outlaw Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) instead of worrying about whether or not I was caught up on the newest TV show. It’s exhausting trying to consume everything on TV so you can stay relevant at parties or whatever. So while all my coworkers were obsessing over the emotional stories of The Haunting of Hill House, I was happily reliving the glory of the Bennetts and Drew Thompson. While they were talking about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I was thinking about this photo of Timothy Olyphant leaning in a doorway …
While they were all about [insert some other new show here], I was dreaming of buying cross-stitched pillows featuring some of Justified’s best asshole-related quotes, like the most iconic one below:
There’s not a living room in the country that wouldn’t be improved with those words stitched across the couch pillows, and you know I’m right.
But Justified was all too frequently overlooked when it was on. Developed for TV by Graham Yost from a short story by Elmore Leonard, the series aired on FX from 2010 until 2015, which means it unfortunately sometimes got lost among the Breaking Bads and the Mad Mens of the supposed Golden Age of TV. In fact, it only made a fruitful showing at the Emmys when Breaking Bad wasn’t eligible. And although Olyphant and Goggins were both nominated for their excellent work that year, it was just supporting actress Margo Martindale who walked away with a shiny statuette for her work in the show’s perfect second season. And yes, Martindale more than deserved that Emmy, but Justified as a whole deserved far more recognition than it actually received. This is why I sometimes shout “Justified was robbed!” into the void completely unprompted. This was a damn good TV show, and one that is far better than some of the shows airing now.
However, what I learned during my most recent rewatch (obviously this was not the first time I’ve rewatched Justified since it ended) is not just that Season 3 was Peak Raylan Sexiness or that there’s real, honest comfort in revisiting shows, but that the series and its story are universal. The obstacles the characters are all trying to overcome are familiar; even if you didn’t grow up in a small, corrupt town like Harlan, you can understand the overwhelming feeling of being trapped by your hometown and never leaving it alive. Even if you don’t support Boyd’s lawless actions, you can appreciate his clever mind and understand his drive. (Though I will probably never forgive him for what he did to Dewey Crowe.) Every character was drawn with such depth (the Crowes of Season 5 excluded) that you were empathetic toward them even if they were also technically a villain.
But what made Justified so successful was obviously the complex relationship between Raylan and Boyd, two men who not only dug coal together, but were also two sides of the same coin. Raylan could have easily ended up an outlaw instead of a lawman, and although it’s something he isn’t likely to forget, knowing this always made his scenes with Boyd, full of banter though they were, feel loaded and that much more electrifying. The series’ sense of humor was also one of the sharpest I’ve seen anywhere, which is notable mostly because Justified is ostensibly a drama series. But the show was littered with instantly iconic moments and quips and memorable back-and-forths that went down like the smoothest Kentucky bourbon. It is also responsible for what might be the single most badass line in TV history:
Near the end of the show’s final season, Raylan told Boyd, “I gotta admit, there’s a small part of me that’s gonna miss this when it’s over.” He said this after revealing that he was coming for Boyd and the two men exchanged some of their trademark banter. But in 2018, there’s no reason any of this has to be over. Even if there are great new TV shows debuting year after year — and there absolutely are — there are still plenty of old ones that are just as good, if not better. And there’s absolutely no shame in embracing those shows and the comfort they provide simply because there’s something bright, shiny and new out there. That’s why I will probably continue to rewatch Justified every year and fall in love with it over and over and over again.