The One About Harlan
(as in, Kentucky)
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In the land of bingeable TV, there are many options. In a real twist of logic, the very fact of all the options make it easy for me to support the WGA and SAG AFTRA strike. I know writers and actors aren’t being responsibly compensated for streaming and are as worried about AI generated content as we authors. Yet I consume streaming content like it’s the only thing available to me. Kind of like I don’t want to support American football because it’s dangerous but I am in countdown mode to the start of the season right now, like I am every year at this time.
What I mean to say is, there is so much content out there waiting for my eyeballs and earholes, I say let’s spend the next 6-9 months catching up on it all while the writers (and actors) work for fair pay. Win. Win. I for one am doing my part. I have several shows lined up like a giant stack of TBR books. It includes:
Reservation Dogs (whole series)
This Fool (whole series)
Season 3 of Only Murders in the Building
My 3rd rewatch of the entirety of Ted Lasso
My 1st rewatch of the entirety of The Bear
Seasons 2 and 3 of Jack Ryan
Picking up where I left of with The Americans
New Season of The Lincoln Lawyer
The Kings of Napa
Anyways, you get the idea. Basically my entire TV consuming life is set for the foreseeable future and that’s not taking into account the food porn I love like Five Star Chef and Bakeoffs. And of course, a 4th (or is it 5th) rewatch of the entirety of Bojack Horseman.
But today, I want to talk about something I never expected to get its hooks into me, but has, in a big way. It all started when I saw that the East Kentucky lawman dude played by Timothy Olyphant was headed to, of all places, Detroit. This had to be interesting, as it included one of my fav actors (R.I.P. Santa Clarita Diet one of THE best zombie shows about real estate agents or about real estate agents who are zombies out there) and one of my favorite cities (The D).
So we started Justified: City Primeval. But I realized after 2 episodes (they are not released all at once) that I was in dire need of Back Story. “Where did that daughter come from,” I kept asking Mr. Liz. Who finally threw up his metaphorical hands and said “You should watch the series from the beginning, like a normal person. Like I did.”
And so, I did. I started my Justified journey last weekend, am now into season 3 of 6, and that hook is in deep. The twangy music follows me around in my head, and I find myself even willing to stay up past my usual bedtime (don’t ask. I am old) to watch more.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Number being Timothy Olyphant but as he said himself recently, he plays an excellent emotionally stunted gunslinger. Oh…wait…Now I have to add “Rewatch of the entirety of the Mandalorian to watch him play THAT version. And do not get me started on the way his Seth anchored all the crazy Shakespearean level dirty talking in Deadwood.
But I am taking to my substack thingie here to do a bit of a closer look at why, exactly, this show now has me hooked. The supporting cast is great, of course, which helps, including the guest stars. My Lord, Margo Martindale pretty much walks off with the whole of season 2. R.I.P. Mags Bennet (ok kinda). But I think for me, it’s the setting and the way the show runners are committed to the veracity of it, warts and all.
By way of my bona fides: I grew up in Williamsburg, Kentucky, the county seat of Whitley County which is two counties west of Harlan County where most of the show is set when it’s not bouncing around in Frankfort (the state capital BTW) and Lexington. I was born in Nashville, TN and lived in Tallahassee, FL and Brewton, AL all before I was 7 years old, when we settled in Williamsburg. My parents are Kentuckians—father from Murray, on the west side and mother from Oldham County, once farmland, now a wealthy suburb of Louisville. I went to the University of Louisville (Go Cards), and am married to a fellow alum who was born/raised in The Ville and who still owns property in the middle of the state.
I am, I would venture, a relative expert on the Bluegrass State even though we have not lived there since the late 80s. On the whole I don’t miss it as we do get back to Louisville a fair bit mostly for sports events including that horse race. I was skeptical about how a show like this might depict a state with which I have an intense love/hate relationship. Kentucky is definitely the butt of plenty of hillbilly, cousin-marrying, dope-smoking jokes and not without cause.
The dichotomy of one-time resource-rich lands ravaged by greedy coal companies, where locals work in shall we say rather dangerous conditions with its larger city residents turning blind eyes and dismissing “life in the holler” as one full of meth addled illiterate moonshiners is not a not a new one, not by half. I was kind of worried this would be another dismissive take on what life is like where it’s hard/impossible to get internet and your nearest neighbor is “over yonder on the hill.” It’s not. While it doesn’t shy away from the realities of cars in the yard and torn screen doors, it also doesn’t downplay it as a way no one would ever want to live.
One of the characters represents this best when Ava Crowder (after blowing her abusive hubs away at the kitchen table and laying a brief claim to Olyphant’s Raylan Givens upon his return home to Harlan County) refuses to leave her home in Harlan even when her dead hubs’ daddy is threatening her life. It is her home and she can’t / won’t imagine life anywhere else. That’s something we don’t give folks credit for—appreciating their homes. Take this how you will, as someone who flew out of Eastern Ky and never looked back. I had my fair share of BS there but I’m not going to lie, when they say things like “Tates Creek Road” and “Corbin” and have funny exchanges about Louisville versus Lexington, I absolutely love it. That said, it’s obvious not ALL of it is filmed in situ, as it were. But enough of it is that it works.
Some say it’s Appalachian Misery Porn. The cluttered, ugly houses with torn screen doors and leaky roofs and what not. The constant feuding over who gets to grow and sell pot, oxi buses, and the core story of how the coal companies want to lop of mountain tops and then move on while leaving the locals to try and cope with slurry floods and poisoned waterways are so realistically represented, it’s hard not to appreciate them. Little things like real Kentucky license plates, obviously taking the time to film some of the show in the state itself, and, most of all LEGIT KENTUCKY ACCENTS*, along with great writing and acting (FTP Unions!) make this my current binge.
Oh and to those folks who’ve read The Love Brothers, my series set in a fictional town near Lexington who like to tell me that “no adult humans especially not male humans call their fathers “Daddy” ….. I invite you to watch just one episode of this show to prove my point.
As for book listening, I have 2 recommendations and 2 meh/not so much this time around.
Here’s a quick reminder of my review scale:
SA Crosby writes crime/mysteries cop stories set in Virginia, which has a similar set of issues as my own Bluegrass State. Pretty countryside, famous cities and sporting events, bi-polar politics, hollers and poverty, the works. I HIGHLY recommend both All The Sinners Bleed and Blacktop Wasteland both for their stories, the voice, and the setting (plus the narrator!)
The other 2, while entertaining and decently narrated, both ended….strangely. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which life the MCs were living at the end of The Ferryman by Justin Cronin, which is on the whole a super creative “where do we go when we totally ruin this planet” story, not unlike the Wool (Silo) series. It just wanders back and forth too much between the dream world and the real one that you do get lost trying to sort through which world is what.
The Glass Hotel also starts out super strong, with plenty of back and forth and overlap between characters and timelines. But the ending does disappoint considering how well-crafted the story was up until the literal last few pages. I do love me some Emily St. John thought, just sayin’ this was a miss for me.
What’s In My Earholes Now:
I gave into the hype and am trying this one: The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. So far it’s pretty good, sort of a cross over Michael Creighton Outbreak tale with a mash up of familiar zombie and End of The World As We Know it tales. I like all the characters involved, as it feels a bit like The Stand, but with a zoological cross over sleep walking disease instead of Captain Trips. I’ll keep you posted.
* A KENTUCKY ACCENT IS NOT A GEORGIA, ALABAMA, MISSISSIPPI OR EVEN A SOUTH CAROLINA ACCENT. It is much softer, and I think, a bit easier on the ear. KUDOS to the show runners for insisting on using it and the actors (YOU CAN DO THIS SAG AFTRA) for executing.
P.s. I have enabled “chat” so feel free to add your take on your favorite bingeable shows! Did you watch Justified? If so, who’s your fav character other than our intrepid, soft-spoken gun slinger, ladies man Raylan. I’m kind of liking Boyd’s character arc and the actor is spot on with him (considering this character dies in the original novella that inspired this whole series, making him into a redeemable sort with and edge that Raylan never quite trusts is well-executed).
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