Published on: April 17, 2015
This week, I am happy to tell you about two excellent pieces of entertainment. It is a mark of how things have changed in the entertainment world that neither were in the theaters ... I watched them both at home, and was completely happy.
The first was the series finale of "Justified," a program about which I've often written here. For six seasons, this adaptation and expansion of an Elmore Leonard novel has been nothing short of glorious - western archetypes placed in Harlan County, Kentucky, and featuring a rock solid leading performance by Timothy Olyphant as US Marshall Raylan Givens coming up against an extraordinarily colorful group of bad guys, chief among them bank robber/drug dealer Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins with smooth and knowing malevolence.
The thing about "Justified" is that it managed to be that rare thing - a TV version that was loyal to the original in terms of both tone and content, even managing to amplify on themes and characterizations in ways that are completely satisfying.
There was Givens in his cowboy hat, all cool and confident, understanding the difference between the law and justice and aware of the fact that he had only barely escaped his Harlan County roots only to be plunged back into the morass after a questionable gunfight against a Miami criminal. (He maintains the shooting was justified ... hence the series title.) And then there were all the assorted criminals, all of them products of the circumstances in which they were raised, marked by a sense of inevitability. Some were looking to leave Harlan County, and others wanted to own it.
If you've never seen "Justified," I strongly urge you to start from the beginning and watch the entire series. The finale was pretty much everything I could have asked for, especially because it managed in most cases to avoid cliche and take the audience in some unexpected directions. (There was one moment that wasn't so much cliche as inevitable ... and it was perfect.)
I'm going to miss "Justified" enormously. The good news is that there are a bunch of Elmore Leonard novels featuring Givens that I can go back to. Leonard was one of the greatest American novelists of any genre, and his work remains a national treasure to which we can return again and again.
The other entertainment was something new - and for me, totally unexpected.
"Daredevil" is a 13-part series based on a Marvel comic book character with whom, to be honest, I'm not that familiar. I knew the bare bones - blind lawyer has heightened other senses that allow him to fight crime in New York City. I knew it had been the basis for a lousy Ben Affleck movie a few years ago. And I mostly was intrigued because the 13 episodes were being released on Netflix, following the "House of Cards" strategy that worked so well. In this case, I was more intrigued by the delivery system than the content, and decided to watch the first episode just to get a sense of it.
Well, 13 episodes later, I can tell you that "Daredevil" is fabulous and in some ways highly original entertainment. At the end of each episode I couldn't wait to see the next one, and it took real effort to turn off the TV.
In many ways, "Daredevil" has the look and feel of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy - gritty and dark and without much hope. But placed in a grimy and devastated Hell's Kitchen in New York - at a time just following the devastating events showed in The Avengers
- it actually has even greater resonance. It doesn't just seem familiar, but likely, as it portrays what essentially is a struggle for the heart and soul of the city.
Fighting that battle are two men. Charlie Cox plays blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who dons the mask of Daredevil at night ... and finds himself struggling with issues of good and evil, wanting to do the right thing but increasingly feeling that it is only through acts of violence that the bad guys can be defeated. On the other side is Wilson Fisk, a crime lord who wants to rebuild the city in his own image, and who wants to be seen as a good guy and savior even as he gives in to his baser and most violent impulses. The two men are linked not just by their desire to save their city - albeit in different ways - but also by a kind of emotional insecurity about the methods and motivations.
"Daredevil" is a remarkable piece of television. It makes other TV superhero series like "Gotham" and "Smallville," which are not without their charms, look like "Sesame Street." I think it is going to be an enormous hit for Netflix and Marvel, and I can't wait for season two.
I have two wines to recommend to you this week...
• 2012 Airfield Estates Runway Cabernet Sauvignon, from Washington's Yakima Valley, which is deep and rich and just yummy.
• 2014 Bonny Doon Albarino, from California, which is light with just a bit of spice, and a nice version of a wine that more often comes from Spain.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.