‘Justified: City Primeval’ Review: A Welcome ‘Justified’ FX Revival
JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL "City Primeval" Episode 1 (Airs Tuesday, July 18) Pictured: (l-r) Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, Norbert Leo Butz as Norbert Bryl, Victor Williams as Wendell Robinson, Marin Ireland as Maureen Downey. CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

 ‘Justified: City Primeval’ Review: A Welcome ‘Justified’ FX Revival

U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) had a time-honored tradition during the six seasons of the original  “Justified.” The rakish law man would chase a baddie across Kentucky back roads and trailer parks. Bullets flew, and moonshine was consumed. Still, Givens always made time for a philosophical and deep conversation with his prey before the final showdown. Raylan would learn something humanizing about his nemesis’ motivation and, inevitably, realize he himself could be a dick on occasion. These talks often featured Boyd Crowder, Givens’ frenemy played by Walton Goggins with a mouthful of Biden-white teeth, a shock of black hair and buckets of country wisdom. They were so humanizing that you often forgot Boyd was a white supremacist turned drug dealer.

In “Justified: Primeval City,” Givens’ nemesis is killer and White Stripes aficionado Clement Mansell aka the Oklahoma Wildman. At a crucial moment, Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) sizes up the now middle-aged Givens. The lawman still has steel abs and an itchy trigger finger, but now he also has a head of gray and a wayward daughter.

“There are only two kinds of guys out in the street chasing bad guys at your age,” says Mansell to Givens. “The ones who got passed over for ‘the big chair,’ and the ones who just love it so much they’re gonna have to be dragged off.” He pauses for a moment. “The only question is: Will they be breathing when it happens?”

That observation is an appropriate stress test for “Justified: City Primeval,” which has been rebooted by Sony Pictures Television and FX. Fortunately, Raylan Givens is not only still breathing, he is still killing it — sometimes literally — in new and ethically dubious ways as he and his worn Stetson move into their AARP years.

The original “Justified” ran on FX from 2010 to 2015 and was based on an Elmore Leonard story that provided the source material for the show’s zesty and sometimes tragicomic dialogue. The reboot’s creators include some of the old hands, Dave Andron and Michael Dinner, and they made a wise decision to get Raylan out of his Kentucky comfort zone and graft him on to a different Elmore Leonard project, 1980’s “City Primeval,” set in the writer’s hometown of Detroit. It’s a new milieu but the vibe remains the same.

How Raylan gets to Detroit is tremendously convoluted. He’s still right where we left him, working cases in Florida for the U.S. Marshals, but has taken time off so he can drive his now teenage daughter Willa to a camp for troubled girls. She broke the nose of another kid, and her dad rules the assault, uh, justified but unwise. (Willa is played by Vivian Olyphant, Timothy’s actual daughter).

This is Raylan Givens, so his fathering is interrupted by a carjacking involving two Detroiters. He captures them, but takes his sweet time turning them in. His dallying leads him to a Detroit courthouse where a crusty judge (Keith David) and a world-weary prosecutor (Aunjanue Ellis) display little tolerance for his too confident testimony.

The charges are thrown out and Givens is sentenced to sticking around in Detroit and helping capture a killer — the Oklahoma Wildman. Pretty soon a government official ends up dead and the bad guys possess a little black book listing all the corruption and misdeeds of Detroit officials. Chaos ensues.

Detroit is gray and unknowing here, a generic Gotham City. This will happen when you set a show in Motown and film it mostly in Chicago. (Olyphant has admitted a Chicago night shoot was shut down there after actual gun violence erupted near the show’s set). Still, the change of geography does “Justified” good. Givens is in a strange city where he doesn’t speak the language, and must watch out for Willa who wanders the streets and starts ordering copious amounts of room service. Olyphant plays Givens in a more controlled way; his more cartoonish qualities and sense of humor has been sanded away. He is forced to work with folks who don’t give a shit about his Harlan County back story.

This is a good thing. His fellow marshals in Kentucky were always the weak link in the original show, and they have been happily replaced by a stellar trio of Norbert Leo Butz, Marin Ireland and Victor Williams. Butz plays the rule breaker, Ireland is establishment and Williams has seen it all. (“Justified: City Primeval” bench is deep. Stick around for the always great Terry Kinney as an Albanian gangster).

Alas, their performances are if not wasted, truncated. “Justified’s” episode runs on FX were 13 in a fatter era of basic cable; in the streaming age, “City Primeval” gets eight. Time once spent understanding secondary characters and their lives — always a strength of the show — is limited to the point where it isn’t quite clear what motivates Ireland and Butz’s characters as the season builds to a crescendo.

Fortunately, this is less true on the other side where Ellis plays Carolyn Wilder, the Oklahoma Wildman’s lawyer who eventually becomes his target. (Giving them the names Wildman and Wilder is a little much.) Ellis plays her as a proud woman with a thousand-yard stare who is still capable of breaking down when she sees her fragile world violated by evil-doing. Her confidant is a former client, Sweety, a gay bar owner and Detroit jazz legend played beautifully by Vondie Curtis-Hall. Sweety has done time because of an earlier criminal link to Mansell, and forms a tenuous alliance with the Oklahoma Wildman as he tries one last time to escape his precarious financial position. You never regret watching when either Ellis or Curtis is on the screen.

Givens’ relationship with Wilder goes from a case of mutual irritation to something else. Maybe it is the ticking clock of age, but it is the most affecting of Raylan’s romances through the years. Gone is the gunslinging Romeo replaced by a weary man who knows love vanishes but still should be cherished for as long as it chooses to stick around.

Now the bad news. Any longtime “Justified” fan knows that sometimes the villain impresses, sometimes they are just there. Mansell is caught in some kind of no man’s land that is neither believable nor terrifying. He is obsessed with a singing career, but his delusion is given short shrift. His truest moment of malevolence is reserved for a waitress who brings him an overcooked steak. The Oklahoma Wildman comes off as less wild and more an annoying dude who also kills people. His girlfriend Sandy — played by Adelaide Clemens — has no arc other than to alternate between being titillated and horrified by her man.

Still, we have Olyphant’s Givens in middle age, and that’s more than enough. He is just another aging man who — as Leonard Cohen said — aches in the places he used to play. Raylan needs to decide if he is going to keep doing the same old shit every day until he dies or makes a serious change.

There’s enough false endings and misdirection in “Justified: City Primeval” to suggest we’ll never know if Raylan Givens gets a happy ending. And that seems like justice.

The first two episodes of “Justified: City Primeval” premiere on FX on July 18, and stream the next day on Hulu, with new episodes rolling out weekly.