One of the best new shows to hit TV in years is Justified, on FX. For one thing, it’s got one of my favorite actors, Timothy Olyphant, doing a variation on the strong, silent, badass type he played in Deadwood — this time as a U.S. marshal.
Justified is about a culture that is virtually absent from national popular entertainment: Appalachia. It’s set in Harlan County, Ky., and portrays the hardscrabble life there with a degree of empathy that surprised me when I first watched. (The entertainment industry is not known for its sensitivity to Southern culture.)
Much to my delight, the latest plot line is about a mountaintop-removal coal company trying to buy up land and the battles (both legal and illegal) it sets off. There’s an underground coal mine in Harlan — Olyphant’s marshal grew up working in it — but now the company wants to buy up the land and start surface mining, all in the name of jobs and economic development.
Obviously there are limits to what you can do within the confines of an hour-long cop drama, but given the constraints I’m finding the presentation of the issues shockingly substantive. The full episode isn’t available on Hulu yet, but here’s the recap:
Kudos to the show for digging into people and issues that rarely get a voice in national entertainment, and for doing so with intelligence and sensitivity.