Below, Ron Wynn takes a look at the week in television with the premiere of Justified, the return of FlashForward, the season finales of Scrubs and Archer, and more:
He's one of the greatest crime and mystery novelists in modern history, yet Elmore Leonard has also done his fair share of western writing. He began his career doing short stories in that vein and his cinema accomplishments in that genre include the great films Hombre, The Tall T and 3:10 to Yuma. After switching to modern crime fiction, several acclaimed movies based on Leonard's works have been made, among them Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk and 52 Pickup, to cite only three.
But despite all this success (and he's also had many excellent made-for-TV films) things haven't been so rosy for Leonard when it comes to series television. ABC's Karen Sisco was botched due to network interference and incessant time-slot changes, while Leonard hated their version of Maximum Bob so much he threatened to never again let any of his properties be adapted for that end of the media.
Fortunately, he changed his mind. Tuesday evening at 9 p.m., the latest production based on a Leonard short story makes its debut. The FX series Justified stars Timothy Olyphant as a sharp-shooting, wry U.S. marshal forced to return home due to personal missteps.
Olyphant's Raylan Givens is back in his Eastern Kentucky hometown and none too happy about it. He worked in the coal mines growing up and felt living in the area was a dead end. But after blowing away one of the biggest drug dealers in Miami, he's been exiled to the place he thought he'd left forever.
Adding friction is former Shield mainstay Walton Goggins as Givens' main adversary Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist and bank robber who happens to be the lawman's childhood buddy. Their interaction will be an ongoing part of Justified. Another good sign is the producers' determination not to let the show become CSI:Kentucky.
"We have a rule in the writing room, executive producer Graham Yost told TV Guide. "Whenever we start talking about fingerprints or DNA, we go, 'Whoa! That's just not our show.' With Elmore Leonard, you spend a lot of time with the bad guys."
Based on the 2001 short story "Fire in the Hole," Justified also benefits from the creative freedom afforded cable shows regarding language and situations. Olyphant flourished during his days on Deadwood, and this will be as much a modern Western as a cop and buddy drama. It also has the potential to be the next big FX hit and their first genuine crime and action winner since The Shield.
When it debuted this fall, ABC thought FlashForward was the logical successor to Lost in terms of a high-concept episodic drama that would generate online buzz and weekly intrigue. Instead, what they delivered was a confusing tale about a blackout giving people a look into their future. FlashFoward proved equal parts convoluted, confusing and unappealing. Over its three-month first run the show lost more than five million viewers. It also experimented with cast and concept changes, hardly the best tactic for presenting what was already an unconventional program.
FlashForward returns 7 p.m. Thursday (WKRN-Channel 2) with a two-hour episode the producers insist will clarify and focus the program for its remaining episodes. First, they plan to explain exactly who Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan) is and why he's critical to the story. Second, they will offer more explanations about what people can and can't do regarding their ultimate fate, and even go more in depth about the origin of the blackouts (there are also hints about bigger ones coming down the line).
But most importantly, the show needs to pick some central figures and focus on their stories, using them as the draw to get others into the program. As Lost has proved the past two seasons, you don't have to understand or believe the premise so long as you empathize and care about the characters. Proof of that can be found every week by scanning the Lost message boards, where people bicker, debate and assess situations they admit they don't understand solely because they are so invested in particular stories involving cast favorites. So far that hasn't happened with FlashForward.
For anyone who stuck around to watch this season's revamp of Scrubs, the first year in the new format mercifully ends 7 p.m. Wednesday (WKRN-Channel 2). One hopes that what was once an innovative and funny program will now be allowed to die in peace, and that ABC got enough bonus episodes so they won't prolong the agony any longer. The few episodes I sat through before bailing this year were stupid, hideous or both.
The same holds true for CBS' Gary Unmarried, which is on the critical list in terms of renewal. So the producers are trying a gamble with the season finale that airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (WTVF-Channel 5). Let's just say if it does return, it definitely won't be the same show (which could only be a blessing).
Finally, the outrageous and profane animated spy spoof Archer concludes its first season 9 p.m. Thursday on FX with its lead character trying to discover the identity of his father. If you've never seen Archer, you're missing arguably the most irreverent and bawdy show on either cable or broadcast TV. It's what Family Guy and The Cleveland Show would be if they were on FX instead of the parent Fox network.