'Justified: City Primeval' Team Talks Trying to Recapture Elmore Leonard's Tone While Expanding Raylan Givens' Story

Raylan's a stranger in a strange land, chasing Oklahoma Wildman, in the upcoming extension of the 'Justified' universe.
by Danielle Turchiano — 

Timothy Olyphant in 'Justified: City Primeval'


When Justified (Metascore: 86) came to an end in 2015, the majority of critics and fans felt the team behind the show created a fitting end for the six-season Western based on Elmore Leonard's work. But Leonard loved that team so much he told them if they ever wanted to adapt more of his stories, they had his blessing. And that has come to fruition with Justified: City Primeval.

"We felt we stuck the landing, but we weren't trying to recapture the show that we did; we were trying to recapture Elmore's tone," co-showrunner and director Michael Dinner said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the new series. "City Primeval's a book that we really loved, and we really loved the characters in the book, and we thought it'd be interesting to pick up with Raylan down the road where the road's a lot shorter in front of him than behind him."

The new series is designed to be "true to the [original] but not the same show," he continued. 

The 1980 novel follows Clement Mansell who is known as "Oklahoma Wildman," a murderer, who tries to extort money from an Albanian crime boss and is therefore chased by a detective who doesn't want him to slip through the Detroit justice system again. Clement is the antagonist in the series, too, played by Boyd Holbrook, but this time around the character is pursued by Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who has left Kentucky and moved to Detroit with his daughter Willa (now played by Vivian Olyphant).

The team acknowledged they took some "creative license" with changing Willa's age for this timeline on the show because they were looking for a character who could be a "ticking clock" to further complicate Raylan's life. As Olyphant put it, aging her up to be around 15 years old means "you're about to lose her no matter what in three years."

Another complication for him is that he is "a stranger in a strange land," co-showrunner Dave Andron said.

He's still a law enforcement officer, though one who is now staring down retirement, and feelings about such officials have become more complicated over recent years. The show is cognizant of that, especially when it comes to how white officers interrogate Black characters. As Dinner put it, they are "aware of it, but it's not trying to become a diatribe."

"We're not a show that cheerleads for law enforcement, but what makes our world and Elmore's world a little different is our characters aree self-aware a little bit, aware of their flaws and shortcomings, and aware that it's complicated," Olyphant explained, noting you have to address the conflicting feelings, "otherwise, why bring it back in today's day and age?"

Similarly, there are conflicting feelings around the original series' antagonist because Boyd Crowder did some bad things, but his portrayer (Walton Goggins) did them oh-so well. The same may come to be true for this series' antagonist. Holbrook admitted stepping into such a role in this series was a challenge, specifically one he's never had before, in part because he had such "big shoes to fill. But he noted there was also great reward in playing "a contradiction of a person."

The show also stars Adelaide Clemens as Sandy Stanton, Vondie Curtis Hall as Marcus "Sweety" Sweeton, Aunjanue Ellis as Carolyn Wilder, Marin Ireland as Maureen, and Norbert Leo Butz as Norbert.

FX considers this new series "an extension of the [Justified] universe" and there will be Easter eggs and references to original series characters, but it is not a prerequisite to watch all six previous seasons to understand, let alone care about, Raylan's journey now. Nor did the team want to make this new series a "greatest hits" of returning stunt casting with guest stars. That said, if you are a fan of the original, you will find out where some of the original characters other than Raylan have ended up by the end of the Justified: City Primeval season.

Justified: City Primeval premieres Summer 2023 on FX.