Just seeing Timothy Olyphant locked and loaded again as Raylan Givens will probably be enough for fans of “Justified,” but the FX revival subtitled “City Primeval” more than justifies the encore. Featuring an older Givens with more to lose facing off against a truly nasty bad guy, the eight-part series overcomes a few clunkier elements to deliver the expected shoot-from-the-hip charms.
Having moved to Miami, Givens is still a US Marshal, but now one juggling his obligations by raising a teenage daughter (Vivian Olyphant, the star’s real-life kid making her acting debut), who offers a “Kim Bauer in ’24’”-type reminder that cop shows seldom benefit from incorporating kids. Indeed, chalk this up as another instance where the attempt to humanize the hero through fatherhood simply feels like a distraction.
Fortunately, Raylan gets detoured on a case in Detroit, where the murder of a judge brings him into contact with a defense attorney (“King Richard’s” Aunjanue Ellis) while putting him on a collision course with one of her clients, a ruthless hoodlum named Clement Mansell (“Narcos’” Boyd Holbrook, also a heavy in the new “Indiana Jones” movie).
Givens is a bit of a fish out of water in these surroundings, which mostly provide an excuse for wry dialogue, such as someone warning him that his presence in a predominantly Black neighborhood “can be hazardous to your caucasity.”
In keeping with the bluesy tone of the original Elmore Leonard stories, “City Primeval” creates a solid roster of supporting players, which in addition to those mentioned include Clement’s girlfriend (Rectify’s” Adelaide Clemens) and an associate (Vondie Curtis-Hall), fueled by the fact Clement is a powder keg who can go off at any time.
Granted, things become a little unnecessarily messy down the stretch, with what amounts to a three-way game of cats and mice involving the cops, the bad guy and more really, really bad guys (Albanian mobsters, drawn into the fray thanks to Clement’s excesses).
Ultimately, though, Olyphant – also currently featured in the limited series “Full Circle” – remains “Justified’s” sturdy anchor, and he hasn’t missed a beat, including the modern-day-western vibe he brings to Givens’ “Shoot first, ask questions later” brand of law enforcement. That formula breathed life into one of TV’s most familiar genres, in a series that ran six seasons before signing off in 2015.
For those who might approach this as a one-off, the producers leave the door ajar, which should be welcomed by anyone who missed the original show. As for whether that’s potentially bad news for Raylan, this is really one of those characters where, even if he’s loath to admit it, the best thing for him is to spend less time with his family.
“Justified: City Primeval” premieres July 18 at 10 p.m. ET on FX, with episodes available the next day on Hulu.