Hollywood, more often than not, gets it wrong about the South in movies and television. When they do get it right, we Southerners are both amazed and appreciative.
The best example of pinpointing nearly perfectly the Appalachian South is the FX drama “Justified,” which, to show how good it is, was awarded the prestigious Peabody Award for outstanding drama. I am such a stout admirer of this modern-day Western about a United States marshal that I have given countless DVD sets to friends.
“It was our favorite Christmas present,” my sister, a longtime fan of Westerns, said.
“That’s the best show I’ve ever seen,” said NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, who, in turn, bought countless DVD sets for gifts. “That’s the first television show I’ve watched in years where I didn’t fall asleep. I didn’t want to miss a minute.”
The show, based on an Elmore Leonard short story, features a gun-slinging marshal named Raylan Givens who has been sent back to his native eastern Kentucky, where the righteous and renegades are at war. As usual. As far back as I can remember in the mountains that I call home, the righteous have been trying to shame the renegades, who are not about to be shamed. Or tamed.
There’s always some shooting and bleeding going on as well as dark comedy that comes from well-drawn characters who are wise and always, without fail, entertaining. But here’s what “Justified” does best: It gets the Appalachian South right without reducing us to mockery or ridicule. It pays homage to a stubborn bunch of people who will do it our way, like it or not, and, particularly, to those who won’t do it the government way.
The show spans across the mountain poor, the city rich and all those in between, and never fails to authentically portray all of our people in precise dialect, dress or attitude. I have marveled at the brilliance of it for so long that, a year ago, Tink took me to the set to watch a few hours of shooting. It was better than Christmas, which is why I acted like a child who is both delighted and awed.
“It is uncanny how well you get things right,” I said to one of the executive producers.
“Well, it can be hard,” he replied humbly. “It’s a fine line to walk to get it right without looking as if we’re making fun. We want to be respectful.”
Tim Olyphant, who plays Raylan, one of the most masterfully written characters in both literature and television, came over and introduced himself. He worked with my brother-in-law on an HBO show called “Deadwood” in which he also, I am told, played a lawman. I don’t know for certain because I refuse to watch it or anything else in which he acts. I want to remember him always as wise-cracking, quick-drawing Raylan.
Georgia-born Walton Goggins, who plays the engaging — even likable — villain, wasn’t working that day so, sadly, I didn’t meet him. The talented Goggins was particularly poetic and entertaining in the show’s first season.
“That is the most perfect season of drama television ever,” I proclaimed over and over to Tink. “The season started in one place and, amazingly, ended in a completely different place. Brilliant writing.”
That’s a major reason that I’m such a fan — the writing, especially the dialogue, has my full admiration.
I waxed on for so long about “Justified” that Tink finally sat down and wrote Graham Yost, the creator of the show.
“My wife won’t stop talking about ‘Justified.’ She goes on and on about it and has bought at least a dozen sets for gifts,” he emailed. “So would you do me a favor and name a character after her?”
Graham immediately responded that he would do just that.
“And,” Tink wrote back, “Could you kill her off, too?”
He should be a comedian.
Rich is the author of “There’s a Better Day a-Comin’.” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.