It feels like every TV show is ending this week, but one show is here to remind us that television is still good, and that show is Justified: City Primeval, the sequel series to Justified, which dropped its first full trailer yesterday. I am not going to be remotely objective about this, as Justified is my favorite TV show of all time. Is it perfect? No. There is a certain level of consistency in seasons 1-6, you can always count on the acting and dialogue to deliver, but seasons two and four, in particular, are so flat-out spectacular that the other seasons, decent-to-good though they are, pale in comparison. 


The series gets points for changing course mid-stream in season one, though, going from a case-of-the-week procedural to a serialized story about childhood friends who end up on opposite sides of the law after discovering the electric chemistry of Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. The writers doubled down on Goggins as Boyd Crowder, the show’s central antagonist and foil to Olyphant’s swaggering deputy, Raylan Givens, and Justified was better for it.

SO much of Justified is tangled up in Raylan and Boyd and all their Kentucky-holler bullsh-t, I genuinely wonder if bringing the series back not as a continuation of the first six seasons but as an anthology-style one-off, leaping ahead 15 years and introducing a new cast of characters, is going to work. Will I love Justified as much if there is no push-pull of Raylan and Boyd?


Justified always had great seasonal antagonists—Mags Bennett, Drew Thompson, creepy Boone the would-be gunslinger—but always around those season-long arcs there was Boyd, plotting, planning, robbing, lying, cheating his way to a better life by way of his family’s drug empire (Justified never made a big deal of it, but that show captures the opioid epidemic in a way little of 2010s pop culture did). Other antagonists come and go, but Boyd always remains, the immovable object to Raylan’s unstoppable force. But City Primeval has no Boyd.

Jumping ahead 15 years from the Justified finale—which already included a brief flash-forward—Raylan is in Detroit as part of a special taskforce hunting Clement Mansell, aka the Oklahoma Wildman. City Primeval is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1980 novel City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. The book does not include Raylan, instead, it centers on a Detroit detective named Raymond Cruz. For the show, they appear to have switched out Cruz for Raylan, which isn’t great when you consider the implication of replacing a Latino character with a middle-aged white guy. 


City Primeval, does, however, have Boyd Holbrook starring as Clement Mansell, which is brilliant casting. I will watch anything Holbrook is in; convenient, then, that I was going to watch City Primeval anyway. He does look fantastic as Mansell, a psycho killer who, in the book anyway, runs afoul of a cop tired of seeing him get away with literal murder because of the courtroom skills of his lawyer, Carolyn Wilder. In the show, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor stars as Carolyn, and the trailer hints that maybe Raylan is going to have another ill-advised tryst—oh Raylan, do you never learn?! 

As great as it is to have Raylan Givens, the coolest cat on TV, back on, er, TV, I do wonder about Justified without the yin and yang of Rayland and Boyd. It makes me think of what Jesse Armstrong said about ending Succession where he did, that this is where the show “loses interest” in the Roys. Justified is about two men, bound by a unique life experience—“We dug coal together”—who must confront each other and themselves during a critical moment in the home they both loathe and love. Once Raylan puts Boyd in jail for good and moves back to Miami, the show “loses interest” in him. The Thing is done, he finally laid his ghosts to rest and manages to do what the songs swear is impossible—leave Harlan alive.


My hope is that City Primeval finds new interest in Raylan. We are, after all, meeting him 15 years down the line. His daughter, Willa, is now a teenager (played by Timothy Olyphant’s actual daughter, Vivian Olyphant, and yes, I have Feelings about him participating in nepo baby elevation), and the trailer teases their relationship as a central element of the show. Maybe Willa is the new Boyd, in the sense that she could provide the friction that keeps Raylan honest amidst all his modern-day cowboy bullsh-t.

Because as much as I love Boyd Holbrook and Justified’s penchant for colorful villains, they’re never really what Raylan fights against. The Crowders, the Bennetts, the Crowes, Nicky Augustine, Drew Thompson, Avery Markham: these are distractions from Raylan’s real struggle, which is with the self. Boyd represents everything Raylan detests about himself, Boyd is the what if and could be if Raylan ever slides too far down the slippery slope he rides as a morally compromised lawman. Raylan needs a foil because otherwise, he becomes too much the myth he represents, the white hat lawman who always gets his man (fun fact: Succession’s Alan Ruck starred in one episode of Justified as the only fugitive to ever elude Raylan). 


I’m stoked to have Justified back in any capacity, don’t get me wrong. And Justified with bonus Boyd Holbrook? A treat just for me! But Justified, uneven though it could be, ultimately told a perfect story of cops and robbers and moral corruption and the lies, big and small, we tell ourselves to soothe our memories and make our pasts less haunting. That story required more than just a great protagonist and a memorable villain, it required a perfect foil, and that was Boyd Crowder.