Justified sequel City Primeval justifies its existence with neo-noir-meets-Western vibes

Timothy Olyphant is back as Justified‘s Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, now in the big city of Detroit with the same big hat. Eliza Janssen reviews his return in sequel series City Primeval.

‘Hard-boiled’ is the perfect descriptor for the works of novelist Elmore Leonard. Brilliantly adapted to the screen by filmmakers from Tarantino (Jackie Brown) to Soderbergh (Out Of Sight), each of Leonard’s stories twist and turn along the contours of tough, often criminal morality, resembling cynical noir narratives one moment and heroic cowboy yarns the next.

Justified, FX’s six-season adaptation of the neo-western adventures of Leonard’s good cop Raylan Givens, isn’t so much hard-boiled as it is Kentucky-fried, drenched in hot sauce, and powdered with the secret herbs and spices of a wild and wide ensemble. And with sequel series Justified: City Primeval now reassigning the heroic Marshal (Timothy Olyphant) to a big city gig, the ongoing, comfy-crime saga takes on a whole new flavour.

City Primeval is a totally seperate piece of literature to Leonard’s other stories about US Marshal Raylan Givens. With its subheading ‘High Noon in Detroit’, it’s clear that some of the retro Western themes from Leonard’s ‘Fire In The Hole’ still make their way into this more urban setting. But it’s undeniably weird to witness Olyphant, a Southern gentleman as ever in his trademark Stetson, surrounded by claustrophobic skyscrapers and bright lights.

Back in Justified’s early seasons, we were constantly reminded of the dark past and complex community that kept Raylan tethered to the Appalachian wildness in which he’d been raised. Series standout Walton Goggins played the recurring Joker to Olyphant’s tortured cowboy-Batman: the two men once worked alongside each other, diggin’ coal out in Harlan County, but reunite in their middle-age on opposite sides of the law. Goggins’ hillbilly antagonist Boyd was a great foil to Raylan’s troubled lawman character, his amoral anarchy calling the Marshal’s licence to kill into question.

The punches still hit hard in City Primeval: dirtbags flee crime scenes on dirt bikes, and you’ll definitely pick up a few new Southern-fried turns of phrase. But the franchise’s move from Eastern Kentucky to Michigan’s capital city does rob the Justified sequel of some of the unpredictable, rural tone that made the original series so unique. One of the most obvious ways in which the new series strives to differentiate itself is in its colour-grading: Justified was in the country, all warm ‘n’ yellowy! Justified: City Primeval is in the city (primeval), so it’s all cooool ‘n’ blue! The fact that so many other gritty detective shows use the same palette makes the immediate visual impact of this shift a little less impactful.

What grounds Raylan in this new world, then, is the daughter he’s constantly sidelining while distracted with the season’s growing criminal arc. Played by Olyphant’s IRL daughter Vivian Olyphant, 15-year-old Willa is a living embodiment of the safer, more innocent future the Marshal could—and really should—settle into. The pair have the easy chemistry you’d hope to witness in an actual father-daughter acting performance, but even two episodes in we see that Willa doesn’t know her father as well as we audience members might. It’s going to be heartbreaking for her to witness the ruthless, vengeful, skull-cracking side of Raylan that’s made Olyphant’s genteel character so fascinating to us this whole time.

City Primeval will hopefully splice some nifty perp-of-the-week cases into its overarching conflict, which sparks up when Raylan leaves a couple of criminals in his back seat while having a leisurely diner lunch with his daughter. The court comes down hard on our fave Marshal for being about as reckless as he always is, so he’s assigned to figure out who tried to take out a crooked local judge(Keith David!) via carbomb.

That all feels pretty low-key, pretty Justified, until we meet the sequel series’ true Big Bad in the form of Boyd Holbrook’s “Oklahoma Wildman” Clement Mansell. Holbrook has become fairly typecast lately as a charming All-American killer (The Sandman, Indy 5). His presence here as a younger, crueller, more modern update of Raylan’s old foe Boyd unfortunately adds to the somewhat generic feel of City Primeval: he could be an antagonist from almost any lesser streaming service crime saga.

The Justified sequel even seems a little self-conscious of its old-world, pew-pew-round-‘em-up-boys perspective, arriving a good 13 years after its original seasons premiered right around the start of the ‘peak TV’ era. During its run, Justified was uplifted by critics as an under-seen gem, often overlooked in favour of Breaking Bad’s more intense highs, or True Detective’s cinematic production values. Another series about cowboy-hatted country folk with shadowy morals has become the world’s biggest show in Justified’s absence, and the pilot of City Primeval doesn’t avoid the comparison. “You watch Yellowstone?”, one character asks her friend while eyeing Raylan at a bar: “I’d fuck the shit out of Kevin Costner.”

Refreshingly, though, the new Justified doesn’t feel a desperate need to justify itself. Raylan’s new arc, of getting dragged back into danger and deceit despite his best intentions to spend time with his lonely daughter, is welcoming to viewers who won’t know a thing about his mishaps in Kentucky. Returning fans might miss the Appalachian idiosyncrasies and standalone crime stories that got us hooked in the first place. And original creator Graham Yost taking a backseat, as executive producer rather than writer, might mean the series strays even further from its loveable beginnings.

But hey: Raylan is a cowboy at heart, and a cowboy’s gotta wander. Even if it’s into the heart of a gritty new setting, and urban mysteries that could take him far away from everything we thought we knew.