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I'm not a western fan. I grew up watching a lot of them with my dad, but aside from the Gunfight at OK Corral, I never really got into them. So I wasn't sure about this, but I thought I'd have a look due to some very positive reviews.
Now this is going to sound a little bit weird, so I apologise... but I'm not sure if I'm glad that I did look. I've had to rate the series 5 stars because I sat glued to every episode in Season 1 and Season 2, so it's undeniably gripping television, very slickly directly, well scripted, and imaginatively filmed, but it's not a pleasant experience. There's nothing uplifting here. This is televisual nihilism. Dark, murky, filthy and frequently horrific. There are some much needed comic moments, due to a cast of very colourful characters, but the base tones here are black, brown and grey.
I have no problem at all with the frequent swearing. I didn't even notice it much, to be honest. Can't really understand why so many people get their knickers in a twist over it. More grisly murders than you can shake a stick at, and they get flustered over the F and C words. Crazy. I did feel a little bit uncomfortable with the feeling I got in a couple of episodes that some scenes of horror were veering very close to gratuitous wallowing, though. Shock for shock's sake. But this was not the norm- just a feeling I got in maybe 2 of the episodes. I'm not usually bothered by explicit material either, but again, an explicit blowjob while a character is giving a soliloquy can smack a little of... well, going out of your way to offend the easily offended. I do like the risk-taking element, though, and the bravery of the concept. Very original, and tastefully pulled off for the most part....
I've no doubt you'll be riveted by this series if you choose to give it a go, but if you're at all of a melancholic, depressive bent, I'm not sure if I should actively recommend it. It's very haunting, and very unsettling in parts. Thought-provoking, most definitely, but I don't think it's something I could watch again, or would want to watch more than once. Is it worth owning on dvd then? I'm not sure, considering you get no extras on the UK edition. I think that extras might have left me with a slightly sweeter taste in my mouth... helped me to appreciate the art behind the production, and sponge away a bit of the bleakness. As it was, I watched all the episodes, then felt that I needed a very long shower. With carbolic soap. And a little counselling. And a holiday. The craft here cannot really be faulted, but the content is very, very heavy. Approach with caution and handle with care.Read more ›
The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire... HBO's resume is bursting with TV goodness. And it's from this network that the latest - some would say best - of the bunch now emerges.
The concept is fairly simple: Gold rush. Old west mining town. Lots of gold. Lots of whoring. Lots of double-crossing and murdering. But the show is so much more than your average 'Cowboys and Injuns'. Deadwood gives out as much as the audience is willing to put in. It is not an easy show to keep up with. The dialogue between the characters is superb, but a bizarre mixture between antiquated and modern colloqualism. But it works. In fact, it is entirely possible to watch the show, have no idea what is going on and on a superficial level, just enjoy watching the beautifully realized characters interacting with one another.
The plot, well-crafted and sometimes frustratingly complex as it is, can usually take a backseat to the other elements of the show - which is hugely impressive and a brave step for a flagship programme such as this. In fact, it seems the writers have gone out of their way to intentionally snub the classical approach to popular TV writing. David Milch, the godlike genius behind NYPD Blue, is probably responsible for this approach, as it can sometimes feel random and disorganised... in other words, more life-like.
You get the impression that the writers and actors love the characters. The show is certainly an ensemble piece as every member of the regular cast pulls their weight. Ian McShane deserves a large amount of the praise for his dispicable, human and ultimately quite likeable portrayal of Gem Saloon brothel owner Al Swearengen.... Timothy Olyphant is excellent as the intense ex-Marshal-turned-Hardware-shop-owner Seth Bullock, as is William Sanderson, Brad Dourif, Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Paula Macolmson, Kim Dickens, Robin Weigert, etc, etc. Everyone holds their own and really, everyone deserves some kind of award. Even the incidental characters are well acted. EVERYONE is good in it.
One entertainingly bizarre consequence of the writers' affection for their creations is that, every-so-often and quite randomly, Ian McShane might be made to deliver a soliloquy to an inanimate object (like his severed Sioux-head in a box or his stuffed moose) about his difficult upbringing in an oprhanage. Or another character, such as sweaty-palmed Hotel owner E.B. Farnam might wander down the town's thorough-fare and complain to himself about his underappreciated social status. And in this environment of back-stabbing and shifting alliegences, these soliloquies reach Shakespearean heights. In fact Iago himself wouldn't look amiss, propped at the bar in a 10-gallon hat...
The underlying theme of the show is moral ambiguity, placed in the context of the beginnings of modern American history - which was after all founded on an enterprising spirit as much as a purely libertarian ethic. The only certain rule that show follows is that the Good generally have to make way for the Bad and the Ugly. Every character in the show has come to Deadwood - a real town in the South Dakota Black Hills, with a real history that the show is loosely based on - for selfish reasons. And any character that is there for unselfish reasons, suffers.
Whilst I had not understood why people have such a fascination with the Wild West, I think I'm beginning to. Western Mythology is tangible, as it was only just over a century ago that the "wild west" existed. What John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies failed to make me enthusiastic about, Deadwood achieves in doing so. Deadwood also once again highlights the irritating trend in British television towards creating patronizing kitchen-sink melodrama instead of well thought out and imaginative dramatic storytelling. Take note BBC, ITV, Channel 4: you should be aiming for this level of brilliance.
By all of these DVDs and join me in cursing HBO for cancelling the final season.Read more ›
In truth, the title to this review actually does the entire series a bit of an injustice. It is a little unfair to apply Deadwood to a particular genre when in fact, it's probably one of the best programmes ever made. All of the performances in it are perfectly judged, most notably that of Keith Carradine as the weary and tired Wild Bill Hickok who if he doesn't have an out and out death wish, is almost certainly exhausted with having to live up to the legend of his name and Ian McShane as the ruthless and profane owner of the Gem saloon, Al Swearengen. Swearengen is one of the truly great TV characters. A dangerous and violent man, but also one who for all of his wickedness, also has a gentler side. It's well hidden and he doesn't show it very often, but occassionally he does and then you are forced to re-evaluate your oponion of him. In fact, there are too many excellent performances to name them all. Every time you watch Deadwood, you will find a new favourite or a new villain. On top of the excellent acting performances is the superb set, showing Deadwood as a dirty, squalid and hazardous place. A town in which life counts for almost nothing and where anything can be bought, provided you have the collateral and that doesn't always mean money. In short, probably what the real Deadwood would have been like. The dialogue is not for the faint hearted. Profanity is used in almost every sentence, but anybody who complains about it is missing the point. The producers of this show have went for authenticity, and in a town where you can pan for gold, drink, gamble, whore, get high and kill all in the same day, the people who live in it aren't likely to be too bothered about their P's and Q's.... Bad language was and still is a part of everyday life, and in a town with no law it's a fair bet the language would have been pretty bad. If you haven't already seen Deadwood, get a copy of the first season and see what you've been missing. The sooner the second season becomes available, the better.Read more ›