Emmy-nominated Walton Goggins, left, plays Boyd Crowder in hillbilly drama Justified.
Spinning wild yarns culled from rural Kentucky's rural clan culture, Emmy-nominated Justified rekindles pop culture's intermittent fascination with poor white folks. Margo Martindale plays mean, tugboat-shaped matriarch Mags Bennett, who turns on her folksy charm as a country store proprietor when she's not bullying her dim-witted sons, protecting the regional pedophile, poisoning rival drug dealers, or serving her guests high-octane moonshine.
The FX series, which also brought an Emmy nod to Walton Goggins for his portrait of a psychotic backwoods preacher, represents a fresh wave of Hillbilly-themed movie and TV projects that tap exceptionally rich veins of American lore.
Offering a variant on Justified's renegade subculture is The Wild and Wonderful
Whites. The 2009 redneck verite documentary stunned festival
goers by following around members of a West
Virginia family. They dance jigs, they gulp painkillers, they cheat the welfare system, and they slur words so strongly that subtitles are required to decipher what the characters are saying.
More of the same can be expected from The Wettest County in the World. Filmed in Georgia, the Depression-era drama, opening in December, casts Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy (Insomnia, Dark Knight Rising) as violent bootleggers determined to trick the Feds.
Further, the excellent Winter's Bone earned Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar nod last year for protraying a plucky farm girl who braves a nest of methampetamine dealers living out of shacks and broken down cars in Arkansas' Ozark Mountain region.
Then there's the upcoming Hick movie, featuring Blake Lively and 14-year old Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz as a profanity-spewing runaway. Andrea Portes, who is adapting the screenplay from her own semi-autobiographical novel, told me "We'd be shooting a scene and somebody would say, 'Who would tear this
sink out of a bathroom wall? Who
does that?' And I'd go: My ex boyfriend."
Reality TV also cashes in on the hillbilly hot streak. Swamp Brothers (Discovery Channel) follows a couple of alligator-catching siblings from Florida. Truck Stop Missouri, which debuts Wednesday on the Travel Channel, zeroes in on the dudes who pilot big rigs. And the cruel but mesmerizing Repo Games (Spike TV) offers redemption in the form of a driveway quiz show to poverty-stricken Southerners whose cars are about to be repossessed.
Why have hillbillies become so hot? Americans in these hardscrapple times hanker for the high lonesome wail. Since country music has largely forsaken the backwoods voice in favor of homogonized muzak, scrappy truths still need to be articulated - no matter how thick the accent.
Justified returns to FX network in late winter 2012.
Swamp Brothers airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.
The Wettest County in the World opens in December.