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Procedural Pacing: Why Justified’s Non-Serial Episodes are…you know…Justified

Procedural Pacing: FX’s Justified

April 8th, 2010

Over the past few days, there have been a number of pieces being written about FX’s future, as the network recently announced that they were moving away from their “edgy” persona in favour of something more akin to USA Network’s brand identity (Jaime Weinman has a great piece on the subject). It isn’t that the network will look no different than USA or TNT, but rather that they’re looking to be a slightly edgier version of those networks as opposed to the cable equivalent of HBO. The mantra may remain the same, in other words, but the point of comparison is shifting so as to take advantage of the current marketplace (where USA is tremendously successful and FX is doing just alright).

And I feel as if the ratings “drop” for FX’s newest series, Justified, has somehow gotten caught up in this particular announcement; James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter’s TheLiveFeed posits that the show’s dropping ratings are the result of the fact that the series began with a pilot and promotion (the latter of which is a fair point, and one that I can’t entirely fairly judge being north of the border) that looked like a serialized series more akin to the channel’s past but has over the next few episodes become more “procedural,” a term that Hibberd uses as if it were a four-letter word for those expecting something “serious.”

I haven’t written about Justified yet, but I’m quite enjoying the show, and more importantly I’m finding the show to be enjoyable entirely independent of whether or not it is delving into highly serialized storylines on a regular basis. In fact, I’d argue that it is integral to the show’s long-term future that they spend time giving us a sense of what Raylan Givens does for a living and how those stories may normally develop. Just because an episode uses “procedural” storytelling does not make it a procedural, nor does that preclude the series from becoming more serialized in the future. So long as the procedural stories the show chooses to tell are interesting, and so long as the stories seem designed to reveal more about characters and about the show’s universe, then the atmosphere and character development gained are well worth the lack of “serialized” material.

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