Review: Justified: City Primeval is a Revival That Gets Lost in the Big City

When Justified ended eight years ago with a question and then an answer, there probably weren’t many people who demanded that it continue. “The Promise” has been regarded by critics as one of the best series finales of the 2010s, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The story of US marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and dangerous coal miner Boyd Crowder (Walter Goggins) was told and ended with one of the most satisfying scenes in the show, and while it would’ve been nice to see them again, it’d be hard to find a fan that didn’t think it was a perfect place to end for good.

So as a Justified fan, I was admittedly concerned when Justified: City Primeval was announced. It would be like making a sequel series to The Sopranos, that’s how definitive and solid Justified‘s finale was. But as more was revealed, I made peace with the idea. Is it just Raylan running around and doing Raylan things? Sure, I could get behind that. Olyphant’s performance made for one of the most entertaining television protagonists of the decade, and seeing his natural swagger and knack for pissing people off translated into a gruff father sounds like a delightful idea. So did I find it necessary? Not really. Was I willing to give it a chance? Sure.

Watching City Primeval, it makes complete sense that Justified creator Graham Yost wasn’t involved in this new series save for an executive producer credit. New showrunner Dave Andron (who I was shocked to find was one of the creators of Snowfall, an actual good crime series) doesn’t understand what made the original show work. As cool as it is to watch Raylan shoot people and speak with a funny accent, Raylan Givens is not the only thing propping the show up. It’s also the show’s ensemble cast of fantastic villains and funny supporting characters, its location, and its complex and tense story arcs.

City Primeval only has Raylan. There are approximately zero interesting or funny side characters in City Primeval, the location feels stagnant, with colors that make it look so dreadfully boring, and the story is as straightforward and unexciting as Justified has ever been. (Yes, even more than season five.) The villain is something I don’t think I could describe as anything other than “embarrassing.” Have you ever wanted to watch some guy “menacingly” sing “We’re Going to Be Friends” to a one-way mirror? Well, now you can! Imagine if Boyd Crowder—widely regarded as one of the best television villains of the twenty-first century—was removed of all of his menace, charm, and chemistry with Raylan, so you’re just left with…a skinny white guy with a gun.

Not helping this is Raylan’s daughter (played by Olyphant’s own daughter, Vivian), a character who once represented the future he could have if he gave up his relentless pursuit of the world’s worst people and now represents something very irritating. The chemistry that could exist between them as both fictional and real-life father and daughter is unfortunately non-existent. (“Their chemistry is non-existent” is also something I could say about Raylan’s new coworkers, his love interest…are you seeing a pattern here?)

But at the end of the day, Timothy Olyphant still knows how to play Raylan Givens, so it could be worse. Despite the rough ride the show offers—and, granted, the back half is significantly better than the first—it is absolutely Raylan on our screens, not some old man who doesn’t remember how to play one of his best characters. The action is shot pretty well as per usual, sometimes the show’s smoother, more coordinated cinematography looks really nice, and there are some satisfying payoffs here and there.

The finale is probably the best episode of the season, and considering that it directly messes with the ending of the original series, that’s both impressive and a little sad. While Raylan learned basically nothing and ends up at a slightly amplified version of the original’s ending, it’s got the most satisfying scenes of the series. I’m concealing something from you, because this is a spoiler-free review—there’s a big thing that happens in the finale that makes the episode significantly worse, and it directly messes with the original series’ ending.

So all in all, maybe it would have been better if City Primeval didn’t exist. When I inevitably watch Justified again, I’ll almost definitely skip it. The worst points of the original show (seasons one and five) feel like they deserve a second watch after enough time, but City Primeval doesn’t even feel like the same series. If you want to watch a good crime series featuring Raylan Givens with a great villain, a dynamic location, and exciting stories, you could just…watch Justified. And honestly, instead of writing more about City Primeval, I think I’ll go do that right now.

Justified: City Primeval is now available on Hulu.

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Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.