Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens
A good show has a great lead character, and Raylan Givens - brought to life by the exceptional Timothy Olyphant - is one of the standout protagonists currently on television. On the surface, the deputy US marshal is the slickest lawman in town. Raylan is cool, composed and charming. He effortlessly comes up with witty retorts, is quick on the draw and pulls off the stetson hat. He's the guy you wish you could be.
But Raylan is also a layered character. The theme of family has been prominent throughout the series so far, and his strained relationship with his criminal father Arlo continues to be a major part of the series and is fascinating to watch. The lack of a father-son bond has shaped Raylan into an angrier and more bitter person and affected his approach to life.
Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder
Those familiar with Walton Goggins's work on The Shield as Shane Vendrell owe it to themselves to watch Justified, in which he assumes the role of career criminal Boyd Crowder. It's hard to read Boyd. He's smart and always calculating, but that's why he's such an intriguing character.
In fact, some of the best interactions on the show are between Raylan and Boyd as they try to figure each other out. The pair share a long history, and it's clear they have a mutual respect for each other, even if they're often on the opposite sides of the law.
One of the best things about Justified is that Harlan County feels so alive. The drama boasts some great cinematography and locations (Noble's Holler, an African American community introduced in season three, is dripping with rich background and history), but even more impressive is its large array of believable characters.
Aside from the principal cast, season three has no less than 20 minor, recurring characters who pop up when the story demands it. All of them are constructed with care and bring something new to the show with their own arcs, and seeing Raylan lay down the law is that much more thrilling when the town he's bossing comes across as a living, breathing community.
Of course, it wouldn't be an interesting show if there wasn't someone getting in Raylan's way, and fortunately Justified has seen plenty of characters give the deputy marshal a run for his money. Boyd continues to be a thorn in Raylan's side, while the Bennett family propelled season two into must-see television.
In season three, Neal McDonough stars as the intimidating and disturbed Detroit mob enforcer Quarles looking to get into the Oxy ring in Kentucky. Quarles is a chilling character at first, but his backstory soon gets fleshed out in smart and compelling ways that make him a whole lot more than your usual cartoonish villain. In fact, it's because he's potentially unhinged that makes him a frightening man.
Justified also strikes a brilliant balance between self-contained and procedural storytelling. Villains of the week are always well-developed, even though they often only have a lifespan of one episode, while the season-long arc bubbles along in the background before gradually taking over the remainder of the season with hard-hitting episodes.
What's also amazing is how consistent the show is. The first few episodes of the first season were fairly slow-paced, but since that point, Justified has remained high-quality television that can be easily recommended.
Justified: The Complete Third Season is out now on DVD