Thursday, April 03, 2008


Deadwood TV series, originally aired on HBO, available on DVD. 2004.

The Plot:

It's 1876 in Deadwood. Gold has been found in Dakota Territory. In addition to the people looking to make their fortune by finding gold, there are the people looking to make their fortune by taking that gold. Sometimes legally -- with stores, hotels, brothels. Sometimes illegally. Deadwood is outside the law; it's in a territory, not the United States, and its status is uncertain. Anything goes.

The Good:

Wow, wow, wow.

Did I say wow?

Yeah, I know, that's not a review.

The Deadwood of this TV series is brutal; coarse; dirty; rough. It's not pretty; the colors are brown, black, occasionally blood red. The series mixes real people (Wild Bill Hickok) with made up people (Alma Garrett); even when based on 'real', it tweaks facts, such as the family of Seth Bullock or the background of Al Swearengen.

I'm sure people have a field day pointing out what isn't true about the series; but it's a hell of a story. And often, with a TV show (or a movie) a different truth is required. For example, the language. Deadwood is not safe for work; and it's not something that is family friendly, with the swearing, the murders, the nudity, the feeding dead bodies to pigs, and the language.

The language: so maybe back then people didn't say m*****f***** or c*********. I don't know; I just saw that in the wikipedia article and elsewhere, that the real curses of the day would seem mild to our ears. So, to keep the real truth -- that the language was coarse and shocking -- language coarse and shocking to our ears was used.

Violence: it's a violent place and a violent time. As one character says to another, you don't come to Deadwood to get fairness; you come to make money. Even the "good" characters are violent.

Actually, the violence, the language, the prostitutes -- all were reasons I didn't want to watch when it originally aired. But then I heard so many people talking about it and how great it was.

And they were right; the language works. It's perfect. It's Shakespearean and grand.

The violence serves a point: to prevent the glorification of the past. To show just how high the stakes were. And to convey a truly different worldview; something historic fiction usually fails at miserably. These people, their choices, their actions -- including pulling a gun on a murderer, or beating a thief nearly to death -- reflect a world that is not ours.

And thru the dirt and the violence, there is sometimes grace and beauty, all the more so because of the hell that is Deadwood. The child saved from a massacre. A suffering man put out of his misery. A woman who dances for the first time. Oscar Wilde said, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Deadwood is a gutter; but there are people who are struggling to find those stars.

One more thing; the characters. Brilliantly shaded; with so many shades of gray and complexity. Brothels and saloons, yes; but this is the real world, not a book where a poor boy makes good. Here a poor boy makes good the only way he knows how; selling drinks, selling whores, stealing, keeping one step ahead of someone else. And women, who are bought and sold by parents both as whores and as brides.

I loved this show, cannot wait to watch the next season. It's a truly grown up show; thoughtful, complex, gets better with repeat viewing. And so well crafted; not a word or gesture is wasted, the shots and editing are superb.

Final, final thoughts: I am so thankful I don't live back then.


Anonymous said...

I love this show! I stumbled upon it last year and watched season 1 and 2 within a month on DVD. I'm currently on season 3 (checked out from library).

I agree with everything you said. I don't mind the cussing, in fact, I think the cussing is the reason I like the show. I've never seen cussing this well done, this poetic or creative. Critics say it's foul mouth Shakespeare and I concur. Despite the crude nature of the show, there is real beauty to be found in the characters. The bad guys--for the most part---have redeemable features.

I hope you enjoy Season 2!
Happy watching.


Anonymous said...

I'm so, so, so glad that you enjoyed it, Liz! I think Ian McShane and Brad Dourif especially shine.

(And I still haven't watched the last season -- I've been putting it off because once I've watched it, I won't have any left, and that just makes me so very sad.)

Amy McAuley said...

OMG, I miss Deadwood. I'm still angry that such a brilliant show wasn't given a proper conclusion. They just abruptly yanked it off the air--the c*********s! ;-)

Liz B said...

I was trying to keep the post short and you all reminded me of more I wanted to say.

Language: when the seniors in the library worked in came in raving (in a good way) about this show, I knew the language had to be so organic to the show that, well, it worked. And it did. Plus, it's not like my library patrons came in and started saying, "what do you mean my f****** book is late, you c********r". So, for all those who think books or movies make people curse: nope!

The actors! I think I'm in love with Ian McShane. And Brad Dourif is great. And Timothy Olyphant. And, and, and.

I have to play with my Netflix queue to start on the next season. I think knowing there isn't a proper ending will make it easier for me to watch the next 2 seasons because I'm not expecting one, you know? But it's still sad.

Finally, I love the 13 ep season. There's no reason a season has to be 22; artistically a shorter season can work just as well if not better.

Anonymous said...

I loved this show almost as much as I loved Carnivale (which if you haven't seen you must Netflix now!)Swearengen is such a great character that I was certain he would overtake Gandolfini as the perennial HBO Emmy nominee.
PS What a great blog!

Sophie Brookover said...

Marcus & I are hugely into this show -- I second everything you wrote, and wonder if you, like us, watch it with the subtitles on? I found that it really enhanced our ability to understand what was going on, particularly in the 2nd & 3rd seasons, where Al seemed to have quite a few meandering soliloquies.