1876. The Black Hills. A gold-rush attracts the desperate, the greedy and the vicious to a frontier town called Deadwood, a two-street mining camp dominated by saloon bar owner and pimp, Al Swearengen. Against this simple but deadly backdrop, plays out a story so rich in character, detail and incident, that most other dramas seem pedestrian by comparison.
HBO seems to have hit on a winning formula but the outcome is anything but formulaic. Like Oz, The Sopranos and The Wire, Deadwood is another stunning production that this reviewer finds outstanding, especially in light of the fact that I am not overly keen on the Western genre.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Deadwood (at least for British audiences) is that the character who dominates the series, around who all things seem to revolve, cut-throat Al Swearengen is superbly acted by Ian "Lovejoy" McShane. No, really. McShane steels every scene he is in; a brutal, profane man, who talks to a box containing the decapitated head of a dead Indian, who verbally abuses his prostitutes and other employees with an acid tongue, McShane is a revelation. Around him orbit a stellar cast. I shall mention no names because each and every one of them turns in an amazing performance. When taken together, the whole ensemble shines.
The writing, too, is again full of character and subtlety, almost too much to take in at one sitting. It is both heart-felt and honest, laugh-out-loud funny and yet brutal and savage. It takes a little time for the ear to adjust to the syntax employed; the lexis, too, seems of a particular age but once attuned, this particular writing style allows a range of expression that doesn't seem permissible in contemporaneous writing.
If you have enjoyed other HBO productions but are not sure about this one because you are none too keen on the genre of cowboys, shootouts, Stetsons and cattle-rustling, Deadwood has none of it. Over the three series (and hopefully at least one full film, just to round the story off), the story is as much about encroaching civilisation on a pioneer town - the first tentative steps of the law, the advent of the telegraph, the bicycle and elections - as it is about the people who actually lived and died in the town.
The only negative aspect to this series is the lack of a full conclusion at story's end. Sure, life goes on and I certainly don't expect a trite, all-loose-ends-tied-up kind of ending but the climax just leaves so much hanging open, it is begging for another series (or possibly even a film). That said, it's about the journey, not the destination and when the ride is as memorable as Deadwood, then an open-ended conclusion is a small price to pay.
Do yourself a favour: roll the dice and take a chance on Deadwood and you will enjoy every minute that you spend in the town, every racist drunk, every plague, every tombstone. Life in the muddy quagmire was never so enjoyable.
on 22 August 2010
I bought this ostensibly for my husband but actually because I wanted it for myself. Said goodbye to terrestrial and digital telly for a week and immersed myself in Deadwood.
As usual HBO has produced a high quality series which is nothing short of mesmerising. My only complaint is that it seemed somewhat rushed in the last couple of episodes and felt rather incomplete although to be fair this may have been the result of the directors and writers expecting another series in which to bring things to a more satisfactory conclusion.
Deadwood is set in the town of the same name in about 1875 although the events it depicts actually occurred over a longer time-span. Its characters are for the most part based upon its real inhabitants from Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane to the anonymous con-man pedlar of soap, although considerable liberty has been taken with their personalities and actions during the period of the Gold Rush and the negotiations to become part of the Dakota Territory. You can look them up in the official website and in Wikipedia. The power struggle between the two saloon and brothel owners, Al Swearingen and Cy Tolliver form the backdrop to most of the action while gripping story lines involving the self appointed sheriff Seth Bullock's affair with Alma, the rich widowed mine owner , the whore Trixie, the world- weary doctor and the tragic preacher. All of these stories contain elements of black humour, true human kindness, sadness and occasional terrifying evil. Violence is ever present and murder commonplace. This is not a series for your Auntie Minnie or for the faint hearted. Obscenity and blasphemy occur with eye-watering frequency throughout though this is oddly enough not as offensive as one might imagine considering the characters and plotting. None of it is gratuitous. Sets and costumes are amazingly good and you can just about smell the filth of the streets and the greasy dirt of the clothing.
There is not a single dud performance amongst its cast members and even minor characters such as the killer of Wild Bill, the drunken and abusive liveryman,the brother and sister ostensibly seeking their lost father and the mild-mannered proprietor of the Number 10 bar come across as well observed and believable human beings. Special mention must made of Ian McShane the English actor who plays Al Swearingen. His is a tour de force portrayal of the ruthless, murderous saloon owner of The Gem. It is a three dimensional performance of a basically appalling human being who does not flinch at feeding inconvenient corpses to the pigs yet has the occasional flash of kindness and generosity which he would die rather than admit to. McShane won a well-deserved award for the role. Not too far behind is Robin Weigert's performance in the role of Martha Jane Cannary (aka Calamity Jane). Here is a woman who has scouted for the US Cavalry, fought Indians, nursed smallpox victims and orphaned children and fallen in love with Bill Hickock whose grave she visits as often as she can. She is also a hopeless alcoholic who periodically binges for days on end yet can still be relied upon in a tight corner.
I loved the series, groaning when an episode ended before I was willing to let go and now sorry that I've watched it all. I will however watch it again in the not too distant future and see things I missed the first time around.
The first thing that strikes on first viewing is the seemingly gratuitous bad language but it very quickly becomes part of the experience and recreation of the hard living early gold-rush. Thereafter you are drawn into the lives of the various characters and as series one and two progress the dialogue becomes almost Dickensian with the occasional Shakespearian soliloquy thrown in; yes, it really is that witty, clever and beautifully creative. The cast are universally superb; irrepressible, improbably honourable and compassionate saloon owner Al Swearengen (played with great aplomb by Ian McShane); irredeemably drunken Jane Canary (Robin Weigert - forget any images of Doris Day you may be harbouring); greedy and obsequious hotel owner E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson); upright but short tempered Seth Bullock (Timothy Oliphant)... the list goes on.
In season three, however, things fall apart a little. The episode synopses disappear, it doesn't follow smoothly on from the end of season two (in fact I had to check that we were watching the first disk of the series), new characters are introduced with no apparent plot to support their presence (witness the brief appearance of the Earp brothers and the utterly pointless theatre troupe) and the script seems to lose its earlier virtuosity, perhaps through the absence of Ed Bianchi as producer. Throughout the season, animosity builds between the odious mining magnate Hearst and Al Swearengen, but the skilfully managed tension just fizzles out in a most unsatisfying (though plausibly realistic) ending.
As with every other HBO series we've watched, the production values, casting, script and attention to detail are unrivalled and a few minutes in Wikipedia give testament to the attempt at historical veracity (with an acceptable level of poetic licence).
on 26 July 2009
Top notch western series that's set in the North American Goldrush era, Cica1870. It's well written, produced and acted. Not much is left to the imagination, verbally or visually. Family viewing this is not! The lead actor, Ian McShane is convincingly evil and worryingly, a likable ruthless killer at the same time. The producers went to great lengths to make the set as authentic as possible, the detail is amazing. Why, `Fist full of dollars' meets `Shakespeare'? Well, as you may find out if you buy this excellent box set, the script sounds as though it was penned by the great bard himself. You're sometimes left wondering what the character has just said or meant due to the script being written in a syntax that one can only assume was the norm in North America some 140 years ago. It's quite wonderful how the characters communicated with each other, which is now sadly a long forgotten way of speaking.
on 4 June 2012
I have to say, having just finished watching the first season of Deadwood my opinion of the show is very high indeed. The acting is outstanding and the writing is both interesting and believable. I am looking forward to the next 24 episodes of this show and I am sure that I will be joining the legions of fans who who still yearn for some closure to the story. From that, I am sure it can be gleaned that if I were to give the show a rating (as I have on IMDB) it would be a very high one indeed (9.0 in the former case).
However, the reason I only give this boxset here a 3 out of 5 (aside from the fact that I couldn't give it 2.5) is that there is a distinct lack of anything else on the discs. It claims, quite boldly, on it's outer casing to be 'The Ultimate Collection' but all I see here is the episodes from each season compiled onto 12 discs. In my opinion that is far from 'Ultimate' and when I purchased it I fully expected at the very least a handful of special features (as is a fair expectation given they are present on every other of the 33 complete series boxsets I own) or even just a few commentaries on notable episodes.
I am quite certain that these features do exist because research tells me they are present on the Region 1 (North America) versions of this boxset so the fact that they are not available on these discs just baffles and annoys me. I presume it is in some way related to the fact that CBS are involved in the distribution of the DVDs because in other cases of HBO dvds I own (The Wire, Six Feet Under, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Game of Thrones Season 1 and The Sopranos) there special features a plenty.
A shame really as it detracts from a great show.
Having heard rave reviews and high praise for this series I thought I'd take a chance and invest in this box set of all three series and I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed! I'm not going to review the series as there are enough reviews around already, but I just wanted to review the packaging of this box set which is probably the worst designed DVD box I've ever come across! I know it's difficult to package 12 discs adequately but the way this has been put together makes me wish that I had just bought each individual series box set as it's that difficult and frustrating to get into! Why do distributors insist on using complex and elaborate cardboard designs for packaging that are easily damaged, creased and in some cases start disassembling themselves! For this box set I can see no reason why they couldn't have used plastic double-disc slimcases, it would only have meant having 6 cases for heaven's sake! It's very annoying when you spend this amount of money only to be let down by the flimsy packaging, maybe it's cheaper to produce in general but this box must have given somebody a headache when it was being designed, it certainly gives me a headache! 5 stars for the series, 3 stars for the cruddy box!
on 5 March 2008
As has been mentioned, there are several reviews detailing all you need to know before buying this but in my opinion this is the second best thing that HBO have ever shown, (after The Sopranos.) Utterly, utterly superb. For those of you who like language, the way in which the characters express themselves is amazingly well written and perfectly melds the clipped, obliqueness of verbal communication in the era, with the vulgarity and profanity brought out by the struggle of trying to survive in such hostile conditions. I understand that David Milch was very particular about not letting the actors ad-lib during the production, so everything you hear on screen is exactly the way it was written; genius.
And nobody but nobody, swears better than Ian McShane!
1876, the Black Hills of Dakota Territory. The discovery of gold has inspired thousands of people to break a treaty with the natives and flock to the area to prospect. The camp of Deadwood has been established to cater for their needs and is rapidly expanding into a large town. In such circumstances there lies opportunity, and the criminally-minded Al Swearengen, wanted for murder in Chicago, has set up his own saloon to cash in on such opportunities.
Swearengen's operations are complicated by the arrival of the noted Wild West figures Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter, as well as the establishment of a rival hotel and casino across the road from his own joint and the arrival of a former Montana marshal, Seth Bullock, who is looking to open a hardware store. With native attacks still a threat and a cholera outbreak striking the town, Deadwood needs to negotiate some perilous waters if it is to survive.
Deadwood is widely considered to be one of the jewels in HBO's crown. Running for three seasons from 2004 to 2006, the series has attracted critical acclaim matched by perhaps only two other shows in TV history: The Sopranos and The Wire. Unlike those shows, Deadwood was not able to complete its planned storylines and ended prematurely in 2006 for reasons that are still disputed between the show's creator and the studio.
The first season establishes the basic premise of Deadwood: the depiction of the slow metamorphosis of the settlement from a mining camp to a proper Western town. In the first episode, the town is shown to be lawless and almost anarchic. Over the course of the season the institutions of law, order and governance come into being, with in some cases the corrupt figures of the early episodes becoming 'respectable' figures in the new order. This shift is marked by one particular murder, which has significant ramifications for the town and its future. This gives the first season its thematic structure, the arising of order out of chaos.
The writing is exemplary, with David Milch and his writers (although Milch effectively rewrote every script in the season himself) creating a cadence rooted in both historical accuracy and also in getting across the feel of the period. The high levels of modern swearing, for example, are not particularly accurate but Milch felt this was necessary as the contemporary curse words would not resonate with a modern audience. This also extends to the general accuracy of events. Many of the show's characters are real historical figures, with their activities being a mixture of historically real events, real events that have been condensed or moved around in time for dramatic effect, and totally new scenes that better illuminate the characters and themes of the series. If there is a problem in the writing it's the lack of consistency in the use of some devices: E.B. Farnum's tendency to slip into monologue is rather intermittent, for example. Otherwise it's rich, textured and often amusing.
Performance-wise, the show features excellent turns from the likes of Timothy Olyphant (as Seth Bullock), Keith Carradine (Hickok), Paula Malcomson (Trixie), Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) and Molly Parker (Alma Garret), but it revolves around Ian McShane in the role of Swearengen. Swearengen sits at the heart of the series, affecting events around him, like a particularly profane spider in his web. McShane, previously best known as the title role in the easy-goin' British detective series Lovejoy, is a revelation in this role, bringing phenomenal presence and menace to the screen. The characterisation of all of the characters is particularly accomplished, with a real focus on making them real, conflicted people. For example, a bald surface reading of the show would cast Olyphant's Seth Bullock as the hero, standing up to the villainous Swearengen, but in fact the two characters are also shown in the opposing role as well, such as when Bullock loses his temper and almost beats someone to death in a disproportionate response to a threat, whilst Swearengen shows mercy - albeit of a rough kind - and kindness to a desperately ill member of the community. This layering extends to all of the characters, making them much more compelling.
Production values are impressive, with huge sets depicting the town and its interiors. It isn't an action-packed series, with considerably more talking than shooting, but when things do go off, they go off in style.
Flaws are almost non-existent. Some events feel somewhat random, but this may be down to the show being as interested in depicting moments showing day-to-day life in Deadwood as it is in ongoing story arcs. In fact, arguably the most successful episode of the first season is the tenth, which shows a typical 'day in the life' of the town aside from all of the other ongoing shenanigans.
The first season of Deadwood (*****) lives up to the show's reputation and billing as a gripping, entertaining and highly compelling drama series showing the realities of life in the West rather than the myth.
on 24 February 2013
The show (5/5)
'Deadwood' is the masterpiece of one of the finest tv writers, David Milch. Milch started his career in 80's, writing many episodes for the outstanding cop show `Hill Street Blues', then in the he 90's co-created another revolutionary show, 'NYPD Blue'. With this show, he has written a great work centered around men, society, power, corruption; it's set in the far west, but it also talks about us and the present.
As well as `The Wire' and few others, 'Deadwood', in the era of the cliffhanger and plot twists, struggled to bring us another style of narration, dominated by powerful of dialogues, true characters and script solidity, pointing out the way to current shows.
The content (1/5)
Under this aspect, this boxset is very poor and disappointing. You'll find only the episodes and the english subtitles. No special feature whatsoever.
At least, the video quality is impressive
The package (3/5)
Six slim plastic cases wrapped in a light, one-side open carton box. The artwork has a fanart feeling, it looks nice, though it isn't 100% convincing.
ps. I'm not English: I apologize for all kind of errors you were forced to read.
on 19 July 2010
We really loved this series and became totally addicted to it. Ian McShane is charismatic and fabulous in the role of Swearengen. The whole cast is brilliant and the characters and use of language (though not necessarily the swearing!) fascinating - it's as I imagine Shakespeare would have written a western. Its right up there with The Wire for required viewing - to relish and watch again & again. Like The Wire, we found it helpful to watch with sub-titles on !