“Justified” has always been one of those shows I avoid because I know I’m going to get caught up in the reality of the setting so much that I can’t pay attention to the plot.
It is kind of like how I imagine a Hawaiian person feels about “Hawaii Five O”–while it is always nice to see your hometown as the centerpiece of a major television show, you can’t help but nitpick at the things that seem so patently incorrect about the locale.
I finally decided to give “Justified” a go, believing it was set in Harlan, a town in Southeastern Kentucky. Now let me give you a quick rundown of how we Kentuckians identify:
1. Northern Kentuckians – These are folks that are mostly just angry they can’t say they live in Cincinnati.
2. Central Kentucky – This is where my hometown of Lexington is located. If you think of Kentucky as a state with a head and a tail, we are the middle of the head.
3. Western Kentuckians – This is Hilltopper region, not to mention home to some bad ass BBQ. Unlike Central Kentucky, this area is heavy on lakes and bodies of water. I’ll come back to this.
4. Louisville – This central-ish western-ish city just gets lumped by itself. Probably for the best, as Rick Pitino needs to be in a confined area.
5. Eastern Kentucky – home of the hill people. These are the coal miner’s daughters and banjo plucking good ole boys of the Commonwealth.
6. Southern Kentucky – is a place I know exists, but no one I know ever needs to have much need to go there. I once went to Berea, which is a town with a college that rewards financial aid to students who do stuff like make wicker chairs and corn cob toys in the name of craftwork. (In all seriousness, the Berea College Crafts Program is pretty rad)
So Harlan is in the space I am least familiar with. I have been to Eastern Kentucky a bit, but if you are a city girl like myself, you tend to think of Eastern Kentucky the way the rest of the country thinks of Kentucky, if you catch my drift.
Back to “Justified” though. The opening shot had me super concerned they had gotten Kentucky very, very wrong. Thankfully, this scene was set in Miami. We meet US Marshal Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), our hero, in Florida after he fires a weapon on a man in a questionable use of force. His punishment?
Being sent to Kentucky.
Raylan is actually from Kentucky, and, as people tend to assume, would never want to go back there, having escaped. I’ll let this slide, as I had that moment in my life where I never wanted to go back either.
He returns home and the dialogue informs me we are in Lexington. I take them for their word, as so far I have seen no identifying markers of the city. I have seen non-white people though, which is a step in the right and accurate direction.
Apparently simply by setting foot in the state, Raylan develops an accent he previously did not have. Again, I’m trying to cut some slack, as I can have a few too many or stay up too late and it becomes real apparent real fast based on my speech exactly where I come from.
Raylan is informed of a pesky white supremacist, Boyd Crowder, wreaking havoc in Harlan and Lex-Vegas and, of course, he knows him from back in the days when Raylan grew up in Harlan. You know how they knew each other?
They mined coal together.
Okay, I’m sorry, I’ve been lenient and am trying to go with the flow, but come on, coal? If this were Wisconsin would they have met on a dairy farm? In Idaho out in a potato field?
Contrary to popular belief, even in Eastern Kentucky, these days there are plenty of people who did not work in the coal mines. In fact, it is a population whose numbers have sufficiently dwindled over the years due to layoffs and modernization.
May as well have had them met racing horses in the Kentucky Derby.
I digress, so Raylan learns that someone, likely Boyd, has blown up a Black church in Lexington with, of all things, a rocket launcher.
At the crime scene, they appear to be on the outskirts of a small town. They identify the scene of the crime with reference to Tates Creek Road, which is actually a real thoroughfare in Lexington, nice job Justified. It is one of the biggest and busiest roads in town and looks a little like this:
If you can’t tell, this is a point where the road is, by my count, seven lanes wide. It is far from a country road. I don’t have a screen shot of the scene in question, so let me describe it for you: Cars are parked basically wherever. No one is driving by and there is a sign displaying the speed limit as 25 in the background. The church parking lot is basically a gravel pit and there are more trees than buildings.
In other words, this is not even close to what Lexington looks like. This is the Lexington skyline, by the way:
(Photo courtesy of Skyscraper Page Forum)
Perhaps you don’t know that the metro population of Lexington is almost half a million people. It is the 62nd largest city in the United States and is the second largest city in the state behind Lousiville (which has a metro population of almost 1.5 million). I’m not saying we’re New York City, I’m just saying this is metropolitan place. There is nothing “country” about it.
One other minor nitpick? I tried to rewind and see for sure, but there appears to be a bridge near this church. Funny thing about Lexington: there is no water there. There are some creeks and ponds, but the Kentucky River is outside of the city by several miles, so we are one of the larger truly landlocked cities in the country.
Raylan constantly driving over bridges on the trek between Harlan and Lexington makes a little more sense, as you do cross the Kentucky River on the trip. It should bear mentioning that the two places are almost three hours apart from each other though, that if he has to drive out there as much each episode as he does in the pilot, I do not envy his job at all.
After this long list of frustrations, you might think I didn’t like the show at all, which isn’t the case. It is certainly interesting and the cast of characters is fascinating. The preacher of the burned down church was played by Doug E Doug of Cool Runnings fame. I will say, it may not be my Lexington, but I can’t be too hard on a Lexington that is the home to the “Kiss the Lucky Egg” guy from one of my favorite childhood films.
In other words, I understand this is supposed to be a fantastical depiction of the Gothic South, embellishing when need be for dramatic effect. No one but me really cares if the Lexington in this show looks or feels anything like Lexington because not many people know what Lexington looks or feels like.
I will say though that, while this show is interesting and I intend to keep watching, I do lament that we can’t have a sitcom or a doctor show that just so happens to be set in Greenville or Nashville or Lexington and not have it be all about being Southern with a depiction of place that is rooted in the small, the kitschy, and the uncosmopolitan. Yes, there is regional influence on the way these cities operate, but they are probably way more like the small cities you’ve visited in California, Ohio, Massachusetts, or Washington than you realize.
So Justified is, well, justified in taking some dramatic liberties, but just keep in mind that this fantastical space and my hometown are two very different things.