Raylan Givens. You swaggering, cowboy hat wearing, US federal marshal. Why are you so awesome? Is it the tight jeans? (For a lot of people, yes, it’s the tight jeans.) The anachronistic, aforementioned cowboy hat and boots? The sly grin? The itchy trigger finger?
Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan, a character created by Elmore Leonard, brilliantly on the FX series Justified, which finished up its fifth season in April. (It’s sixth and final season airs next year.) The show is about Givens, a US federal marshal, who is reassigned to his home state of Kentucky after dealing with a criminal in Miami by, uh, killing him. Back in familiar environs, he spends way too much time mixing it up with the knuckleheads he grew up with in eastern Kentucky in Harlan County. The rest of the cast is full of rich characters (financially, they’re mostly poor), especially the standout Walton Goggins, who plays Raylan’s biggest bugaboo, the smooth talking and verbose career criminal Boyd Crowder. (You could make an argument that Boyd has become the main character over Raylan, or at least they are now co-leads.)
Justified is a great show because it lives up to Elmore Leonard’s name by creating a rollicking, fully spun world of jaded (and wisecracking) lawmen and degenerates. There are a vast array of marshals, corrupt sheriffs, drug dealers, lawyers, hoodlums, hillbillies, prostitutes, thirtysomething blondes (Raylan loves thirtysomething blondes), and various holler royalty all striving for financial security, respect, business opportunity, or to be able to blow off some steam at Audrey’s without the federals getting in their business.
Despite all of this, I thought that the quality of the story dipped some in the fifth season. It was still really entertaining, but the stories of Boyd Crowder and Raylan drifted apart, despite Raylan making the three hour drive to Harlan with improbable frequency. This got me thinking if others thought the same as well. I’ve decided to see if the IMDb user ratings of individual episodes reflected that dip. I’ve also come up with a few hypotheses while I was at it. Let’s see if they are true.
Hypothesis One: Season Two has the highest IMDb ratings; Season 5 the lowest
To my surprise, Justified’s IMDb ratings have been increasing since Season 1
Venturing a Guess: Kinda surprised by this. The biggest jump in IMDb ratings was largest between Season 1 and Season 2, so we can assume that is when the show really took off. It featured Margo Martindale in an Emmy-winning performance as Mags Bennett, the cider-brewing, general store-owning head of the Bennett clan and her dumbass adult sons. The Bennetts also happen to control the marijuana trade in Harlan and have a blood feud with the Givens family. Great stuff.
Hypothesis Two: The first and last episodes of each season have the highest IMDb ratings
IMDb ratings start of high, dip in the middle of the season, and then increase in the home stretch.
Verdict? Pretty much correct.
Venturing a Guess: The IMDb ratings do start off with a
RPG firing into a church bang, drop a bit, and then rise again as the season finishes. The season finales are rated higher by IMDb users than the premieres. This isn’t too surprising: people get pumped for the show starting up again, lose a little interest as it goes along, and rises again when the limosuines get lit up shit hits the fan. Apparently episodes 9 are good, too. Start on episode 9 if you haven’t watched the show before.
Hypothesis Three: Justified’s IMDb ratings aren’t correlated with viewership numbers
Justified’s TV viewership doesn’t seem to affect IMDb user ratings
Venturing a Guess: More people actually watching the show doesn’t necessarily mean that IMDb users will give an episode higher ratings. The show almost always gets between 2-2.5 million viewers and between an 8-9 IMDb rating.
Conclusion & Bonus Chart: TV Ratings for Each Episode of a Season
Ratings are high for the first episode of the season, trough in the middle, and rise slightly at the end.
Thank You For A Surprise Chart: You’re welcome.
Explain It: Fine. Like the IMDb ratings, Justified’s viewership starts off hot, drops in the middle, and comes back up slightly at the end of a season.
Conclusion: I think what we’re seeing here in Justified‘s IMDb ratings is that die hard fans are the one’s voting. This isn’t too surprising, of course. Who else would take the time to register for IMDb and then vote for a cultish FX drama?
Here’s how I reach that conclusion: Justified’s TV ratings and the number of IMDb votes are going down while the IMDb scores are going up. The average number of votes per episode per season has gone down precipitously (548 per episode in season one to 221 in season five), TV ratings are at their lowest in season five (2.3 million per episode; season two was the highest at 2.7 million), but the IMDb ratings are at their best now (average of 8.6 per episode in season five; it was only 8.25 in season 1).
The people who have stuck around with this show for the last five years really like it. I’m sure they/me will be rewarded in the next and final season. That thing I said about the Raylan and Boyd plots drifting too far apart… yeah, that’s not gonna last.
- The IMDb rating system is weighted to reduce the influence of “ballot stuffing.” Here’s is their FAQ.
- Code used to scrape IMDb, the data set produced from that, and the plots are located here on GitHub.