Sam Strange Remembers: JUSTIFIED

Hollywood legend Sam Strange remembers the time he got into the television business with the crime show JUSTIFIED.

Sometimes, you just have to let your babies go. You can struggle day and night to give birth to something beautiful. You can work your fingers to the bone, dedicate all your blood, sweat, and tears, burn the candles at both ends. It doesn’t matter because life is like a box of chocolates: you can lead a gift horse to water, but you can never control whether that horse looks you in the mouth or bites your hand as you feed it. C’est la vie. Just show me the money cause you gotta learn to choose your battles.

Justified was never completely my baby, but the difference between what it is and what it should have been keeps me up at night. I have what’s called a “Producer” credit, which means I must share some of the guilt publicly. Strangely enough though, there’s little shame aimed at me because people seem to have embraced the show. I’m not sure why. I just watched it, and it’s retarded.

My involvement is simple. One day Ron Howard asked me what I thought about doing television work. I wasn’t familiar with the concept, so he showed me this box in his living room where people watch 12-22 hour long films in 43 minute increments. After laughing my ass off, I cried for humanity. Like video games, bento boxes, and slam poetry, that shit isn’t art, and I refused to participate.

Meanwhile, I was going through a very fecund creative period. So much so, that I had to sell some of my ideas just to keep the closet clear. One buyer was a crime fiction writer named Elmo L. Nard. He especially enjoyed this character I came up with named Rustler Blackberry, a modern cowboy who loves to shoot people.

Elmo L. Nard wrote his books featuring my character. I never read them because I’m allergic to wood. Ron Howard read the them though, and decided to adapt them for television as Justified. I just watched it, and it’s retarded.

So there’s this guy named Rayban Stetson. He’s a Federal Marshal, which is a completely made-up type of cop that rests somewhere between regular cop and FBI agent. Rayban is from the old school. He wears a cowboy hat on his head, leather high-heels on his feet, and a “horse” under his ass (a Mustang). Although contained somewhat by his superiors, Rayban deals a great deal of “frontier” justice. Unlike other fictional cops, when people are about to shoot him, he shoots them first. To make this fish out of water image more complete, the show takes place in Kentucky, a state well known for its artisan coffeehouses, synagogues, and indie rock bands.

Rayban shoots people not just to save his life, but also because his heart is boiling-over with a red-hot anger. We see this anger manifest itself in deeply troubling ways. Typically, Rayban gets a case, finds his crook, takes the guy out for drinks, and gets him laid. The two share childhood stories and deep emotions while staring at the full moon from the hood of Rayban’s horse. Eventually the crook gets a gun, and Rayban cries and begs him not to shoot. When he refuses, Rayban shoots him first. As he dies in Rayban’s arms, Rayban accepts Godfather responsibilities for the crook’s child, for whom he was crookin in the first place. He then kisses the dead crook’s forehead and buries him in Kentucky gravel.

Now that is one angry son of a bitch. Why’s he so angry? Well, he has a dad, and he’s on a TV show.

Sometimes Rayban’s powerful anger leads to complicated relationships. His best friend in the world is a arch-crook named Boyd. This Boyd’s a serious hard-ass. He likes to blow up drug manufacturers and kill scummy dumbasses. At first he does this for his own financial gain, but as he grows more and more evil, his motives shift from selfishness to spiritual inspiration. God becomes his co-pilot. It’s utterly fascinating to watch an emotional and violent rivalry of this magnitude played out by two guys who collectively weigh less than one Travolta.

Rayban also has girl problems. For one, he must work in close proximity to his ex-wife. Their marriage was an early casualty of his unbridled anger. His constant breakfasts in bed, candle-lit baths, and library of literature on the female orgasm terrified her, and she broke it off rather than watch him destroy himself with hatred.

On the other hand, he’s got this damsel in distress to rescue named Ava, a completely helpless woman who shoots her abusive husband and helps arrest his brother, the arch-crook Boyd. She spends nearly the whole show successfully fending off bad guys with a sass and resourcefulness that’s clearly a cry for help: “I need a cowboy!” She and Rayban begin a torrent affair based around his anger and her fear and their shared fondness for bourbon. Luckily for him, she’s quite beautiful because her abusive husband only punched her arms. The actress here portrays a victim of violence about as convincingly as Tyler Perry did on Oprah.

As if that weren’t enough, Rayban is also under investigation for shooting so many crooks who were shooting at him first. It turns out that “Tombstone Justice” isn’t so defenda…er, Justified, in the modern age. This just isn’t Rayban’s world! He can’t kill asshole crooks, he can’t ride his horse on the highway, and his mandated cell phone makes him feel like a fairy until Ava helps him adorn it with rhinestones and tassels.

So that’s the story I sold Elmo L. Nard. The show keeps going like this for fifteen hours. Ava fends off bad guys, Boyd talks about Jesus and destroys meth labs, and Rayban walks around shooting people who are about to shoot him. No one important ever dies or gets hurt. They just keep bumping into one another in 42 minute increments. It never really ends.

And that’s why I’m so mad. See, at the end of my story, Rustler Blackberry takes a time machine back to the old west where he single-handedly saves Native Americans from the White Man. After that, they successfully put him into a sweat lodge anger management program. Cured of hatred towards his father for being more of a Tuco than a Blondie, Rustler comes back to the present where descendants of his adopted tribe now own the world and treat him like a cowboy god. He smiles, says “Aw shucks” and walks into that golden sunset until descendants from a rival Native American tribe recognize him and shoot him before he can shoot them first because he’s no longer angry. Before he dies all the way, they put walkman headphones on him and play the new Radiohead tape. He listens to it twenty-eight times before bleeding out, and it never grows on him like everyone said it would.

I’m not saying it would have been the best thing ever. But it at least adheres to the long respected Hollywood mandate that characters in cowboy hats save Indians and don’t understand Radiohead.

(three stars)