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.

JustifiedTimothy Olyphant on FX’s Justified.

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.

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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.

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