January 17, 2012

NOT JUST MAGS EITHER:

He Wrote the Book on Raylan Givens: But FX's Justified understands Elmore Leonard's greatest character better than Leonard does. (Tara Arianoy, Jan. 17, 2012, Slate)

How good is FX's Justified, returning for its third season tonight? Some TV series inspire conventions, cosplay, and speculative fiction from their fans. Justified may be the first show to inspire fanfic from its creator. Elmore Leonard introduced U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the novel Pronto, but hadn't revisited the character since "Fire in the Hole," the 2001 novella which became the basis for Justified. The show reignited his interest, and Leonard's new novel Raylan--so inextricable from Justified that the cover image is of actor Timothy Olyphant in character--is out this week.

Leonard has explained that he wrote the book to give Justified producer Graham Yost more story ideas for the second season and seasons to come. Given that the writers of Justified wear bracelets reading WWED (What Would Elmore Do?), you might think they'd slavishly followed Leonard's lead. But Raylan, surprisingly, reads like an alternate-universe version of Justified, Season 2, with tantalizing possibilities for Season 3. The changes Yost made, in fact, led to a much better story. It's possible that the writers of Justified understand Elmore Leonard's best character better than Elmore Leonard does.

First of all, if Yost and the Justified writers had followed Leonard's blueprint exactly, viewers would have been cheated out of the series' best character and juiciest storyline. Mags Bennett is not even a character in Raylan; in the book, the crime-bossing parent of hapless nitwits Coover and Dickie is their dad, one Pervis Crowe. For the show, of course, Yost crafted a rich yet tragic story for Mags (Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for the role), the alternately diabolical and soft-hearted criminal mastermind who contrived a way to steal the daughter she always wanted.

Every character with the possible exception of Art is better done on the show, though the inferior Boyd and Raylan are the most problematic.  When John Thaw and Kevin Whatley changed Morse and Lewis, for the better, Colin Dexter followed suit in the books.  Mr. Leonard would do well to follow the example.



 
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Posted by at January 17, 2012 4:50 PM
  

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