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Justified: City Primeval Review: Raylan Givens Returns in a Worthy Follow-Up to FX's Crime Thriller

The satisfying limited series is a familiar but fresh take on an old favorite

Keith Phipps
Timothy Olyphant, Justified: City Primeval

Timothy Olyphant, Justified: City Primeval 

Chuck Hodes/FX

It took Barry Sonnenfeld's 1995 film Get Shorty to crack how to adapt Elmore Leonard's crime novels, and its solution was pretty simple: Make the adaptation sound like Leonard's books. Where previous attempts had tried too hard to meet Leonard's distinctive dialogue halfway, watering it down in the process, Get Shorty and the two excellent Leonard adaptations that immediately followed it — Jackie Brown and Out of Sight — built everything around Leonard's crisp dialogue and the colorful, often menacing characters that delivered it. The suspense and taut plotting had to work, but they also had to serve the characters and what they said, whether one was trying to kill or arrest another or get them into bed. So it's no surprise that while making Justified, executive producer Graham Yost gave his writers rubber bracelets bearing the letters "WWED": What Would Elmore Do?

It worked: The FX series, featuring characters introduced in the Leonard short story "Fire in the Hole," ran for six seasons between 2010 and 2015 and earned the approval of Leonard himself before his death in 2013. Starring Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, it ended satisfyingly but in a way that made it hard not to want more. Surely Raylan had other cases to crack even after locking up his foil Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), right?

Justified: City Primeval answers that question in the affirmative, retrofitting Leonard's 1980 novel City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit as a Raylan Givens story that brings Givens to Leonard's hometown to take on Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), a charming psychopath also known as "The Oklahoma Wildman." But even as Clement carves his way through Detroit, leaving a bloody trail behind him, bringing him down isn't all that simple. Clement has a first-rate lawyer named Carolyn (Aunjanue Ellis, excellent as a tough but vulnerable character) on his side. He also has a way of knowing how to stay just one step ahead of everyone else no matter how blunt his technique, particularly after acquiring a little black book from the body of a murdered judge, a book filled with public figures who've paid him off and can now be easily blackmailed.


Justified: City Primeval


  • Recaptures the voice that made Justified work
  • Pushes Raylan in new directions
  • Holbrook makes a terrifying villain


  • Only that we can't get a new season immediately after this one

Overseen by Dave Andron and Michael Dinner, both veterans of the original series, Justified: City Primeval is very much its own self-contained, eight-episode miniseries, but it doesn't ignore Raylan's past. As the series opens, he's trying to spend time with his teenage daughter Willa (winningly played by Olyphant's own daughter Vivian Olyphant). Willa clearly loves her father but also knows his shortcomings, including a tendency to let his anger, always lurking just behind his easy smile and polite demeanor, get the better of him and to let work get in the way of his personal life. Before long, he's done both, sidetracking their vacation to Detroit.

Once there, and once Clement enters the picture, Raylan gets even further away from their vacation plans, following his quarry's increasingly tortuous path. Clement, with his girlfriend Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) — who's sometimes more hostage than moll — at his side, picks up where he left off with Sweety (Vondie Curtis Hall), a bar owner (and father figure to Carolyn) who played a part in a dark crime some years past. When not busy with his blackmail scheme, he attempts to take advantage of Skender (Alexander Pobutsky), a naive member of an Albanian crime family infatuated with Sandy.

Justified: City Primeval keeps Raylan and Clement apart for much of its run, which turns out to be a smart choice. As Raylan keeps getting this close to nabbing his man, Clement simultaneously keeps getting just as close to having his schemes blow up in his face, pissing off everyone from wealthy businessmen to Albanian mobsters. Before squaring off directly as the series nears the end, the antagonists start to mirror each other in compelling ways. Squint and Clement's relentlessness, cockiness, and ability to deliver threats with a smile on his face looks awfully familiar (even if Raylan isn't a pitiless murderer). That Holbrook makes for a pretty terrifying villain helps as well.

Any worries about whether or not this follow-up can live up to its predecessor dissipate before the first episode ends, and Justified: City Primeval keeps pushing its hero in some unexpected directions. Most notably, Raylan falls hard for another character (which one is best left unspoiled) as their playful sparkiness turns into undeniable chemistry and then maybe something deeper, even as their relationship puts both in danger.

Justified: City Primeval works as both the satisfying return of an old favorite series and a fresh take on a familiar character. The miniseries format suits it well, too, keeping the narrative tight without losing space for the characters to breathe. It's one that, with luck, all involved will want to repeat someday, particularly given a final episode that leaves the possibility of further Raylan Givens stories wide open. Some revivals feel unnecessary. This one will likely leave fans old and new wanting more. 

Premieres: Tuesday, July 18 on FX and next day on Hulu
Who's in it: Timothy Olyphant, Aunjanue Ellis, Boyd Holbrook
Who's behind it: Dave Andron and Michael Dinner
For fans of: Clever, occasionally brutal crime thrillers, Elmore Leonard, and, of course, the original series
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8