FX Continues to Surprise - Best Writing on Television - JUSTIFIED - "always leave them wanting more" (P.T. Barnum)

By Stephen Arch

The past two episodes of FX's Justified have proven that FX has just the right ingredients for changing television as we know it.  As an example, several other formats have followed FX's style by broadcasting 7 or 8 series' long shows - sort of like long movies - that have an ending and don't go on and on and then end abruptly (the usual way we learned to watch television - we watch a show, grow to love it, and then it is cancelled).  FX, in the beginning of their hit shows:  American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, Tyrant, Justified, Fargo (to name a few), let the audience know that the show is going to end which increases viewer participation and awareness of EACH EPISODE.  

I remember back in the 1990's, I became a huge fan of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (ABC) and before that Picket Fences (CBS).  I really became enthralled with the "weird" factor in both of these shows, and being a bit more naive than I am now, when Twin Peaks was cancelled, I wrote a long, angry letter to ABC for cancelling a show to which I was so attached.  I remember the letter vividly - I insulted David Lynch, ABC, the executives, producers, etc... for pulling my favorite rug out from under my feet. I wanted it to keep going.  

  Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

  Cast of Picket Fences

Cast of Picket Fences

I knew my letter probably reached the bottom of some garbage can in the ABC studios, but I had to vent.  That's the problem with network television.  They cancel shows willy-nilly for no apparent reason.

However, when watching a series on FX, such as the current Justified, we know it is going to end soon.  To me, that's the fun of it.  Every episode becomes important to the entire series. Who is going to be killed off (and FX kills a lot of people off), who is going to be added to the show (they may add a character for just one episode and then that character is gone the next episode, usually run out of town or killed)? This happened with Garret Dillahunt (Ty Walker) and Duke David-Roberts (Choo-Choo) this season.  I was really "rooting" for Raylan and Boon to have a gun fight and Raylan shoot and kill Boon.  He is just too annoying of a character (Boon is), but that's the fun of the show.

  Boon (Jonathan Tucker)

Boon (Jonathan Tucker)

But this is what FX does so well.  Will a character such as Boon be killed off, or will he be around for another episode.  Gladly, he will be - simply, to me, because he adds to the overall individuality of the characterization in FX series.

Choo-Choo, above, and Walker.

These two characters were excellent additions to the show, but knowing it is really NOT their story - they are supporting cast members, they will be killed off at some point or another.  It just makes watching more interesting. Hence, with the loss of Dillahunt, we get Tucker (Boon).

The same is true of Tyrant, another example of FX's technique.  Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed (Adam Raynor) arrives for a wedding at the fictitious Middle Eastern Nation under turbulence. Raynor is the "brother who left because his father ruled with an iron fist" and truly was a tyrant. He routinely uses killing to subject his rule over his people.

Barry, a pediatrician in the United States, does not want to go back to his old country, but at the urgings of his family, he capitulates.  His younger brother Jamaal Al-Fayeed (Ashraf Barhom) is a wild at heart young man who drives around his "nation" in a bright red sports car, making "booty calls" (actually rapes) and terrorizes the residents of his "people."  The series turns when, right after the wedding of Jamaal's son, Barry and Jamaal's father dies, leaving Jamaal as the "heir" to the "presidency" of his nation.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  The story moves on with Jamaal preparing to become the next "president" of this fictitious country.

Barry feels that Jamaal cannot lead the country into democracy (something it seems only Barry wants) and attempts an overthrow of his brother's new regime. The pediatrician now becomes the tyrant, planning an overthrow of his own brother.  Naively, he feels Jamaal will just accept that without a fight.  Barry now "calls the shots," advising Jamaal to hold public, democratic-style elections.  He assures Jamaal that Jamaal will win.  However, Barry, in his own mind, knows that Jamaal cannot lead a democratic country, hence, the overthrow.

Bassam (Barry) makes it known to too many people that Jamaal is not fit for leadership and that he, Bassam, can and should become the next president.  To me, this switch in Barrys' characterization underlies the real character of Bassam Al-Fayeed.  Besides, Barry is supposed to be the "nice" and "intellectual" one of the family.

Of course, the overthrow is discovered - no one can keep a secret - and Barry seems to become the Tyrant, but is arrested by Jamaal, thrown into jail, and sentenced to death. That's how the show ends.  Pretty cool, but at least I knew it was going to end. Jamaal, who knows of his brother's attempts at a coup, takes Barry out on a fishing trip and tries to talk about their past, how they grew up loving each other, how they had each other's backs for so long, how much they love one another, and how important family is.  Jamaal almost begs for Dassam to come clean.  Jamaal makes the statement "we have money - we love to fish - this is a wonderful day - let's just take the boat and keep going and never come back - let's try to rekindle the love we had for each other."  Barry is so obsessed with being anti-Jamaal that he doesn't get the hints and is promptly arrested when they return, is thrown in jail, and is sentenced to death. Great way to leave us hanging.  

I think Tyrant is a great series.  I enjoyed watching it.  However, if the final episode had Bassam in prison awaiting his execution, I would have been happy knowing that.  It would have ended.  (Although Tyrant has been renewed for another season - coming this summer). 

As I have written in earlier reviews of Justified, I am sure that something is going to happen to its star Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) - actually I am sure that one or both are going to be killed in the final episode.  (See finale of Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, etc...) They END. Again, that is what makes this movie format so intriguing.  It's sort of like having to go the the restroom in the middle of a 2 hour movie - you just can't because you'll miss something important.  The individual episodes in between the series on FX give us that chance to get up, relax, take it in, go to the restroom, and relax a bit.  

In last week's episode, it ends with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) surprisingly shooting her husband Boyd Crowder and drives away stealing $10 million.  The show ends.  We are not told if Boyd is dead or not.  All we have is Raylan, who is on the scene, looking at Ava and saying "why would you do that?"  Ava responds "well, that's what you wanted, isn't it" and drives off with the money.  We are left in suspense to see if Boyd lives or dies.  Of course, he has to live because it is not the season finale.  (It's sort of like being forever questioning "Who shot JR?")

In last night's episode, Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen) and Mickey Cosmatopolis (Jonathan Kowalsky) are killed.  Who would have guessed? 

Of course, this adds to the suspense, but there's much more to it than that. 

The way the show's executive producers Graham Yost (Showrunner), Carl Beverly, and Sarah Timberman, along with executive producer/director Michael Dinner (as well as the directors, developers, and producers of all of the FX shows) can add and "delete" characters as they see fit.  Yes, full time standing actors form the basis of all FX shows, the FORMAT allows them to bring in truly star actors who really don't have to work full-time. It allows them to bring characters in and out - eventually finding someway to creatively get them off the show - or eliminate them.  (See Asylum) where the series begins with a cameo by Adam Levine (Maroon Five).  If you were to check the "entire cast" sections of each of FX's IMDb, a bevy of stars have appeared on each of these popular shows.  Imagine beginning a series with Adam Levine having his arm ripped off by "something" when trying to break into the decaying, locked mental asylum.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.  Is Levine going to a major part of the series?  No, of course not.  But this format allows him to make an appearance.  In listening to an interview with Kurt Sutter, writer/producer/director of Sons of Anarchy, I learned that Sutter had been trying in vain to recruit Michael Chiklis to appear in the series, and finally was able to nail him down as the truck driver who "saves" Gemma and who eventually assists Jax with his "suicide." Stars playing "bit" roles.  That's the ticket.

In Justified alone, actors such as Michael Rappaport, Neal McDonough, Alicia Witt, Jeremy Davies and more appear in and out of the show throughout the series.  The same is true in American Horror Story where noted actors appear, spend an episode or two or three, and then are gone - Gaboury Sidibe, Neal Patrick Harris, Lily Rabe, Patti LaBelle, and Danny Huston make appearances on Freak Show. In this format, actors can really let loose and act - play characters they normally wouldn't, and this peaks our interest.  We think - wow, he/she shows up and makes the episode(s) a bit more interesting and draws us in to watch more.  Justified has done this time and time again. Dillahunt, as Ty Walker, was a great example - great acting - great performance - but his time on the show is limited.  We don't get "tired" of him.

Hence, this is the heart of FX's format with special thanks to P.T. Barnum:  ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE. FX does just that.  That's what makes this cable channel so successful, unlike the "usual" dramas on network television.

 Water School:  What a Wonderful Country, the United States


APRIL 3, 2015


  SoCal in red

SoCal in red

SOCal (as we locals like to call it) Southern California to the rest of you untrained travellers, has a population of nearly 23,000,000 residents - San Diego and Los Angeles area, to be exact.  The past three years, unfortunately for those living in the sun drenched part of the country (on average about 10 inches or rain a year, compared to Pittsburgh, that has an average of 50 inches per year precipitation, and, let's say Seattle, which gets about 90 inches of precipitation per year - just by comparison), has received under the heretofore mentioned 10 inches (absolutely no discernable rain whatsoever in the past four years) and is in a serious drought condition, leaving all of those architect/city planners (get the Seinfeld reference) scrambling to find a solution to the "water distribution" problem. And, it truly is a problem.  I really believe this to be true. Southern California NEEDS water.

  Outgoing US Senator, D. NV, Harry Reid

Outgoing US Senator, D. NV, Harry Reid

In fact, in a recent CBS news report, we need water in this part of the country and have nowhere from which to obtain it.(Irony: Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D. NV, is so concerned about the water shortage in the Nevada and SoCal region that he has proposed spending roughly $60 million dollars, not to alleviate the rain issue, but to spend this money on a high speed train running almost 300 mph between Las Vegas and Anaheim, totally ignoring the Southwest United State's need for more water solutions).

Who needs water when you can ride from Las Vegas to LA in 80 minutes, compared to a 4 hour drive.  Wow, what great strides we have taken.  We have no water, but we can get from Sin City to The City of Angels in less than 1 and 1/2 hours. Now that's progress.  "Let them eat cake."  Or rather, "let them die of dehydration" but we can get back and forth to "work" in under two hours.  What a boon.  What city and regional planning.

Imagine farming this land and then knowing the powers that be are worried about getting from Las Vegas to LA in less than 2 hours

I digress, and apologize:  just some background information. The real problem in this region of the United States is water acquisition. A huge and substantial part of the problem is that, in the SoCal region of the country, nearly 60% of water usage is used to keep, get this, in a SEVERELY draught-stricken area, front and back yards "green" year round.  Yes, that's right.  Please, Lord, give me rain for my crops 'cause them there city dwellers are worried about having GREEN LAWNS and FAST TRAINS.   Now that's a mantra.

However, SoCal political leadership has "an idea."  For all of those living in this region, who like green font lawns and spend 60% of the water supply doing so, are in BIG TROUBLE.  In fact, the "authorities" are out in force.  The SoCal area has assigned 10 "water police" agents to ticket, fine, and imprison those who are using too much water to keep their lawns green.  That's right. Green front lawns equal fines and imprisonment.  However, to avoid the fines and imprisonment, the political leadership gives you a choice: pay the fine or either go to prison OR go to WATER SCHOOL.  That's right.  Water school. (And you think you have problems).  Authorities in the SoCal region have assigned special agents to seek out EXTRA WATERERS in the region to punish resident for excessive water use.

While SOME concerned homeowners in this region are digging up their well-manicured lawns and replacing them with gravel and arid climate plants in front of their houses, the rest are facing fines and being forced by overworked court systems to attend water school.

What exactly is WATER SCHOOL?  It's sort of like DRIVING SCHOOL for negligent and repeat driving offenders (teenagers, elderly, and repeat DUI and DWI offenders, but with a liquid bent.  WATER SCHOOL are classes in the region designed to "teach" and "instruct" water abusers how not to uses excess water.  IMAGINE THAT.  Judge:  "I hereby sentence you to pay a $500 fine and attend three weeks of Water School because of your excessive need of green lawns."

So what is Water School exactly?  The accused must sit in on classes on a weekly basis that "teaches" them how to use water effectively.  These poor people.  All they want to do is be left alone and have swimming pools and green front lawns.  But no, the government MUST spend money and teach them how to NOT be water "overuse" offenders.  

I was able to obtain a WEEK ONE  and WEEK TWO  "syllabi" and curriculum for Water School in the SoCal region and was very surprised to find the following "courses":


DAY ONE  Morning session 7:00 am to 11:00 am (4 hours):  Topic:  "What is WATER?"  Participants are permitted to "feel" water, "drink" water, and "play" in water in small plastic children's swimming pools in order to understand the concept of water.

DAY ONE Afternoon session 12:00 to 4:00 pm (4 hours):  Topic:  "What is DIRT?"  Participants are mandated to explore that textures and hazards of dry soil and wet soil.  Participants can and WILL dig their hands into MUD and then try to dig and cultivate, unsuccessfully, concrete hardened soil.  (Note:  participants who have been assigned to Water School must have appropriately government assigned insurance in the event of sprained or broken wrists trying to dig into the hardened soil).

DAY TWO Morning session 7:00 am to 11:00 am (again, 4 hours):  Topic: "What does water taste like?"  Participants forced to complete Water School must, blindfolded, drink several different liquids and make assertions regarding which liquid is water or which is not.  (Real water, mud, dirty water, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and urine (animal and human) are frequently used samples, but the instructor has control over substance use in this area).

DAY TWO Afternoon session 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm (4 hours):  Topic:  " What is a Dry Lawn?" (Field trip).  Participants are taken to houses with totally dried out lawns and forced to walk on the lawn, touch the lawn, "secretly" listen into residents speaking with public officials about why they have to have dirt front yards.  (Note:  this is a particularly difficult course because the homeowners are so emotional).

DAY THREE (field trip day) All day:  Take bus to San Francisco and drink latte's all day - attempt to appreciate the "wonders" of water."

DAY FOUR Morning Session 7:00 am to 11:OO am (DIRT PLAY):  Participants are made to "dirt wrestle" in dry dirt - no water whatsoever. Participants must throw hard dirt at each other to feel what hard dirt feels like - instructors are permitted to replace dry dirt with either concrete or asphalt - up to the instructor in accordance with the ways the participants are reacting to situations.

DAY FOUR Afternoon Session 12:00 to 4:00 pm: (REAL DRAUGHT EXPERIENCES) Participants are made to sit alone, one on one, with farmers who are actually going out of business because of the lack of water.  Farmers are permitted to abuse participants in any way they feel will get the point.  Experience, touch, and interact with dead cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses or other live stock).

DAY FIVE (All day field trip):  Participants are taken to houses with dead grass and landscaping and forced to apologize to the homeowners.  The second half of the day is set aside for participants taken to farms and to being beat up by farmers who are losing their livelihood due to overuse of water sprinklers on front yards. Farm owners are permitted to attack the offenders with pitchforks, shovels, tractors, or whatever farm implements are available and "beat them" into submission - in order to understand the need for water on farms and not on front lawns.


DAYS ONE THROUGH FIVE (Week long field trip, at California residents' taxpayer's expense) Field Trip to:

Tug Hill, New York - Six feet of snowfall 2015

  Tug Hill, New York - Six feet of snowfall 2015

Tug Hill, New York - Six feet of snowfall 2015

  • Boston, Mass.  7 feet of snow 2015 Winter
  • Tug Hill, Jefferson County, New York (Six feet snowfall 2015)
  • Seattle, Washington (70 inches of rainfall 2015)
  • Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Seattle, Portland, Cleveland - Dreariest, rainiest. cloud covered regions in United States

Alas, I was only permitted to see the Week One and Week Two Curriculum for SoCal water abusers.  I am told that Weeks Three and Four are more intense.  I guess they (public officials) are sparing me the intense pain of these weeks.