Justified: City Primeval Season 1 Review – Raylan Givens is back and so is his hat

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 21, 2023 (Last updated: February 17, 2024)
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Justified: City Primeval Season 1 Review - Raylan Givens is back and so is his hat
JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL "City Primeval" Episode 1 (Airs Tuesday, July 18) Pictured: (l-r) Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, Norbert Leo Butz as Norbert Bryl, Victor Williams as Wendell Robinson, Marin Ireland as Maureen Downey. CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.


A new city, a new case, and a new cast might make a spin-off of Justified feel too divorced from the stellar original incarnation, but Raylan Givens is, thankfully, pretty much just how we remember him.

This review of the FX series Justified: City Primeval Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

Justified had what most shows can only dream of – a perfect ending.

And I do mean perfect. This, then, makes it a weird choice for an eight-years-later spin-off. Why take the risk of undermining that sublime conclusion?

After two episodes, it’s hard to say whether City Primeval, an FX adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit, was strictly “worth it”. But I will say that of the two iconic hats returning to our screens in recent weeks, Indiana Jones and his fedora can do one. I’m all about Raylan Givens and the Stetson.

Justified: City Primeval Season 1 review and plot summary

City Primeval wasn’t originally about Raylan, played again by a now-greying but still wonderfully-cast Timothy Olyphant, but a virtually identical homicide detective named Raymond Cruz who Leonard made up to get around a rights issue. Showrunners Michael Dinner and Dave Andron made the logical decision to just transplant Raylan, virtually unchanged, from Harlan County, Kentucky, to Detroit, Michigan.

The plot isn’t a direct continuation, then, which means, unfortunately, none of the characters from the original show besides Raylan himself appear. And while one might lament the absence of some of those familiar faces, especially Boyd Crowder since this season also seems like it’s going to hinge very much on Raylan’s relationship with a charismatic villain, City Primeval immediately offers up a new cast of cops and robbers that seem to channel the original show’s spirit.

The setup runs thusly. Raylan is still working as a U.S. Marshall, though now in Florida, where he’s co-parenting his 15-year-old daughter, Willa (played by Olyphant’s actual daughter, Vivian Olyphant), with whom he is planning a lengthy road trip. By chance, they end up escorting a couple of Detroit fugitives back to The Motor City, and Raylan finds himself embroiled in the murder of a crooked judge played by Keith David.

This isn’t even the half of it. It’s no mystery who the killer is – that’d be the new series Big Bad, “The Oklahoma Wildman” Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), a psychotic grifter with an itchy trigger finger who barely bothers to cover his tracks thanks to hotshot legal representation from Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), who seems to be shaping up as a love interest for Raylan despite a) being on the other team and b) Ellis-Taylor having no obvious chemistry with Olyphant.

Let’s not get hung up on nitpicking, though, since the most essential relationship, the one between Raylan and Clement, is tons of fun, and is very much what the spin-off burns for fuel. The first two episodes are littered with contrivance and convenience to get all the requisite pieces into place, including shifting Raylan to Detroit in the first place and then establishing the city’s network of law enforcers, politicians, lawyers, and criminals, but once that’s handled by the end of Episode 2 this has begun to feel very much like Justified of old. And that’s still with six weeks left.

Is Justified: City Primeval good or bad?

To cut to the chase, Justified: City Primeval is good, though obviously not as good as the original incarnation, but few shows have been in the history of television. This new version is unmistakably possessed of the same DNA, and aside from a few unwelcomely trite nods to the current political climate – Raylan is referred to as an “angry white guy” a couple of times and is accused of racism for stuffing a Black fugitive in the trunk of his car – it’s pretty much business as usual.

Is Justified: City Primeval worth watching?

Fans of the original series should rest assured that both Timothy Olyphant and City Primeval itself return to the character of Raylan Givens as though he never left. And, some quibbles aside, that’s really what counts.

What did you think of Justified: City Primeval Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series on FX.

Additional reading:

FX, Premium Channels, TV, Weekly TV
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