Monday, March 22, 2010

Justified: A Review, or, A Quick Lesson in Showing vs. Telling (from a person unqualified to deliver such lessons)

So in honor of the one-week anniversary of my initial promise of a full-blown review of FX's new series Justified, I thought I might actually do that. I'm a fair-weather blogger, what can I say. (And we are having some darn fine weather here in NorCal.) Don't expect this baby all shiny-like on a book shelf any time soon!

Anywho, my initial assessment of the pilot is: hmmm. This is code for "C." Bordering on "C+." Maybe I had really high expectations. But the first episode left a little to be desired because...

Too much telling, not enough showing. The cardinal rule of good story-telling: show, don't tell. Is it possible to "tell" in the film/television versions of story-telling? Yes, friends, why yes it is. For example...

(Please don't ask me to direct-quote. My talents lie elsewhere. Brace yourself for some gross paraphrasing.)

Example: TELLING

In the pilot, we meet a former pal of Raylan's (Raylan is the lead, by the way) who's since left his coal-digging days behind and turned into a neo-Nazi terrorist. Since Raylan is the U.S. marshal hot on his heels, you'd think this would create some emotional conflict. Yeah, not really.

How many times do they need to tell us--through dialogue--that the main man and his white supremacist nemesis used to "dig coal together." We got it. But such telling does not a moral dilemma make. Raylan has to actually give two squirrels about the guy. And this was not demonstrated. Rather, we're supposed to buy said dilemma because we're being hit over the head with it through dialogue.

We didn't get a sense of the coal mining industry in KY and how it bonds men together. We didn't get to see another side of our protagonist or his blood-thirsty bigot of a former pal (which is even MORE interesting). Missed opportunities all around.

Example: SHOWING

Raylan heads to the courthouse to get a look at his ex-wife as she pounds the keys as a court reporter. She's all gorgeous with perfectly styled waves dangling in her face. (How does one type at break-neck speeds while hair hangs in one's face?) One of the best moments in the show! Point delivered! He still carries a torch for the ex! Well done! So much better than giving us another awkward line about how he's not over her. Which is hurl-inducing.

Example: TELLING

Darn-near final scene of the pilot. Raylan sneaks in to aforementioned ex's new home. They skirt onto the deck for a little chit chat (the new man in her life doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that a) her ex husband just broke into their house or b) she's having a quiet moment with him...still in their house)). She says something like "If you were gonna shoot him you would have done it six years ago when I left you."

Ugh. Quick. Cram in some back story. Like we give a whiz how long it's been.

They chit chat some more, about what I can't really remember, it was that uninteresting. But the conversation eventually leads her to say, "Raylan, you're the angriest man I've ever known."

Ugh. Missed opportunities a'plenty.

Please. Don't tell us the guy's got deep, dark, chocolate layers. That he's battling his own demons, rage, and pain as he wipes clean the streets of Lexington. Show us! We're begging you! Poor Olyphant doesn't have two twigs to rub together to make some fire for his character. You tell me, would you rather see he's an angry man through the plot, the acting, etc? Not through dialogue?

The producers of this show could take a few cues from those of Breaking Bad, which is probably the best show on TV right now. The main character, Walt, an over-qualified high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, is a pretty angry dude. Right away, we know why. His career is in the toilet. He's probably dying of cancer. Soon. And he's broke. Do they find not-so-clever way to tell us Walt's angry? No way. Instead, they have Walt do surprisingly uncharacteristic things like hurl a pizza onto his soon-to-be-ex-wife's roof. ANGRY MEN TEND TO LOSE THEIR COOL once in a while. So far, Raylan's got it together. Despite the telling, I'm having a hard time buying this angry business.

Despite this glaring flaw, will I keep watching? Yes! I have hope. Mostly because the plot itself has promise and it's got some interesting female characters (battered housewife shoots her husband and happens to be Raylan's high school crush). But the script needs some work and ole Timothy needs to kick it up a notch in the acting department. I'd like to keep thinking Hitman was a fluke.

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