Justified Was Meant To Be Kentucky's Version Of The Sopranos

If you've ever spent a bit of time in Kentucky, you know that "Justified" captures the sassy essence of the Bluegrass State. Kentuckians know you think they're inbred hicks who quit schoolin' in the seventh grade so they could deal and/or smoke meth (which has supplanted bootlegging moonshine as the region's criminal coin of the realm), and they don't give a rip. Kentucky is, of course, a far more complex state than this. They also love horse racing and basketball.

I kid Kentucky because I was born and raised in the geographical monkey on its back that is Ohio, a state that currently houses seven pro sports franchises and produced seven U.S. presidents, none of whom expired in office from the overconsumption of cherries and iced milk. But I loved to drive through Kentucky when I visited my grandparents in Tennessee.

Seriously, though, Kentucky deserves more respect. People live there. Graham Yost, the creator of "Justified," understood this, and sought to portray the blue-collar red state as the mess of Midwestern contradictions that it is. In doing so, he knocked out six seasons of classic television. And he had another six-season masterpiece on his mind as he did it.

A land of blood and coal

In an interview with NPR, Yost revealed that the show's writers didn't conduct any on-the-ground research in Kentucky until they were prepping for the second season. When they finally went on an ATV tour of Harlan County, they learned from one of their guides that, in his estimation, they'd successfully captured the flavor of the region. This was hugely validating for Yost, whose primary responsibility was honoring the voice of author Elmore Leonard, without whom these banter-happy characters and this corrupt slice of rustic living wouldn't exist.

As he told NPR:

"[W]e were always trying to apply Elmore's rules of making characters interesting and having them speak well and be smart and clever. Yes, we've filled that part of the world with a lot of bad guys, far more than there actually are, but I was always hoping that people in Harlan would view our show in the same way that people in New Jersey view The Sopranos, which is, 'OK, it's not reality, but it's fun.' We didn't want to ever insult people so we always tried to keep our bad guys pretty clever. I think if you create a lot of stupid characters, that's insulting, but if they're interesting bad guys, I think that's sort of fun."

Mission accomplished. Even the dimmest of bulbs in "Justified" (e.g. Jeremy Davies' Dickie Bennett) can fire off a nifty riposte in the right situation. This is what kept us coming back to the show, and what has us stoked for "Justified: City Primeval." There's pride in being a native Kentuckian, and, if you're from Harlan County, a shared, shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie. As Boyd Crowder tells Raylan Givens in the series' final episode, "We dug coal together."