Hands down the best series on television in 2004.
Jason Whitt | Southwest Mich., United States | 11/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The best kept secret on television is Deadwood, a semi-true story of the lawless town in South Dakota that popped up during the gold rush days of the 1800's. The real Deadwood boasted legendary residents like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock. Both figure prominently as characters in the TV series but are far from the only great characters on display.
Perhaps you've heard of the series, but never gave it a look. Or perhaps you were warned by others that the language was so profane as to render it unwatchable. True, the series isn't for anyone under the age of 18, but it must be understood that this semi-historical piece was written to represent the actual dialect and social tenor of the region at that time. Deadwood was a rough place without real law, and gold was on everyone's mind. All the elements for great drama were there. Greed, corruption, deceipt, innocence, morality (or a lack thereof), hope, hate, fear, addiction, murder, jealousy and love. Deadwood truly represents a kind of sociological study of human evolution within a laissez faire society.
It was clear from episode 1 that the new Deadwood series on HBO was something special. By episode 4, I was certain that Emmy nominations/awards were imminent. The show was largely ignored by the Emmys, likely sufferering from a combination of "newcomer syndrome" and overshadowing by The Sopranos. But make no mistake, it was more than worthy with the actors comprising a splendid balance of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Regardless of fame however, there isn't an off performance to be found in the season. Nor is there a grossly derivitive one. The characters are all satisfyingly deep, nuanced and often downright quirky.
The writing, as is the case with most HBO original series, was entirley engaging with a character and rhythm all its own. It is to be savored as a fine wine or concerto. Unlike many adult drama series on the "other networks", Deadwood never loses its momentum. There is no need to manipulate the audience with cheap antics to get them to care week to week. The story, actors and writing take care of that. Each episode flows to the next with amazing fluidity while always maintaining an anticipatory mood.
There is really no need to get into plot points as it would require a review the size of the Deadwood script and would involve spoiling much of the drama that one should experience as purely as possible. Suffice it to say if you enjoy adult themed series such as The Sopranos, you will love Deadwood. Even if you don't like westerns, it won't matter. The acting, writing, and plot are just that good. Give it a chance. You won't be sorry."
David Milch turns "Deadwood" into the Wild Wicked West
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 12/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all of the HBO series that I have watched in their entirety, I think "Deadwood" is the weakest of the lot (the other are "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," and "Carnivàle"). However, before I convince you this is damning with faint praise I would add that "Deadwood" is one of the ten best shows on television and that it has one of the most captivating characters around with Ian McShane's Al Swearengen, the profane overlord of the frontier town as the owner of the Gem Saloon. Ironically, Al is so good at being bad, with his fingers in every pie in town and always looking for more, that he ends up dominating all of his scenes and all of the other characters.
"Deadwood" was created by David Milch, who always gets mentioned as being the creator of "NYPD Blue," but whom I always laud as the writer of "Trial by Fury," the third season premier episode of "Hill Street Blues," which remains on my personal list of ten best television episodes I have ever seen. To jog your memory, it is the one where a nun is raped and murdered and Frank Furillo coerces a confession from one of the killers by threatening to drop charges and have them released to an angry public. The threat was of vigilante justice, which is certainly an element of "Deadwood."
The time is 1876, which is when the nation's centennial was soured by the news of Custer's defeat at the Little Bighorn. Deadwood is in the South Dakota Territory, where statehood threatens to bring law and order, which the locals consider more of a threat than Indian attack. The men play cards, get drunk, and dream of mining for gold, which allows them to indulge in more gambling, drinking, with money left over for buying the services of a woman for a night as well. This is not the glorious West of Manifest Destiny or even Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis, but a cesspool of human existence that is the gateway to the gold of the Black Hills.
Our entry into this world is the arrival Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), a former lawman from Montana who arrives with his buddy, Sol Starr (John Hawkes), intending to open by a hardware business and make their fortune off those who want to make their own by mining for gold. They have to deal with Swearengen to get their operation going, but Bullock becomes acquainted with Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine). Circumstances force the pair together a couple of times and they are similar in temperament, morals, and ability to shoot a gun and they become friendly, but not friends. Of course, if there is one thing we know about Wild Bill, it is that he is no long for this world.
Also in this world are some rather interesting women, especially Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert), who is the second most fascinating character on the show. She loves Wild Bill even though it will never be reciprocated and when he plays his last hand of poker (two pairs, black aces and black eights) she has to find a new reason for living. Then there is Trixie (Paula Malcomson) a prostitute who ends up caring for a young girl who is suddenly orphaned by one of Swearengen's machinations, and Alma Garret (Molly Parker), who comes from the East with her husband and suddenly finds herself a widow and a claim that might not be worthless. If you want to talk about the most desperate women on television, then check out this trio.
In Milch's Deadwood the vermin are always interesting and my attention is most drawn to the Brad Dourif's Doc Cochran, who stubbornly insists on doing the right thing in a world where right and wrong are irrelevant concepts, and William Sanderson as Eustis Baily (E.B.) Farnum, who thinks obsequiousness translates into something that somehow approaches confidence in the service of Al Swearengen. Everything in Deadwood comes back to Swearengen, literally. We get the feeling that Bullock is supposed to be the force for good to counter Swearengen in Deadwood, but we have no reason to believe they are in the same league. Powers Booth shows up as Tolliver, ostensibly Swearengen's new competition in the saloon business, but we do not think he stands a chance either.
The only thing more omnipresent that Swearengen and his assorted interests on "Deadwood" is the constant swearing. For Swearengen profanity is not just an art form but necessary verbal punctuation, and for many of the characters swearing is on a par with breathing (especially for Calamity Jane). Milch research the historic Deadwood and has justified the language on that basis, but the profanity is part of the texture, as much as the art design, the sets, and the costumes. If you want a constant reminder that the rules of civilization do not apply here, then all the foul language suffices. I bet the demographics on this show skew more male than "Monday Night Football."
Ultimately, with this HBO series the comparison is not to network television shows but rather the genre of the Adult Western that can be traced back to "High Noon" and "Shane." But Milch pushes it to a time and place that predates those particular morality plays. Those mortals stupid enough to want to have a civilized impulse in a place like Deadwood quickly learn to hide it or sublimate it in some way that might keep them alive another day. In the end, the dreamers in Deadwood are not the ones who picture personal riches, the benefits of statehood, or a honest man wearing a badge bringing law and order to this hell hole, but those wretched individuals who actually think they will live to see another day and that such a day might be worth living."
"I don't mean to upset you, it's always about the money"
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 02/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is my nominee for best new drama. This revisionist western will knock your socks off with its fascinating characters and atmosphere. It's May 1876 former Montana marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and his business partner Sol Star (John Hawkes) open a hardware business in the gold-mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood becomes the crossroads for the famous, infamous and the people they kill. Bullock meets Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine) and has a run in with Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). Swearengen lives up to his name; he's a man with the foulest mouth one can imagine and a pretty nasty fellow to cross. McShane's portrayal of Swearengen makes him one of the most complex villans this side of Tony Soprano.
"Deadwood" becomes the nexus for some of the most important figures of the old west creating a great opportunity for storytelling from writer/creator/producer David Milch ("NYPD Blue"). A sprawling, down and dirty revisionist western, the pilot directed by Walter Hill ("Southern Comfort", "Hard Times", "The Warriors") features marvelous performances from Ian McShane, Brad Dourif, Timothy Olyphant, Molly McShane, Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe. Authentic right down to the pig crap, "Deadwood" features the great dialogue, action and storytelling skills we've come to expect from Milch, Hill and the other collaborators on this cable TV series. A warning for viewers--you'll hear a lot of bad words because, well, because Milch feels that folks spoke like that back then.
There may only be 12 episodes included here but they're all high quality. My only complaint is that the series probably could have been packaged with more episodes per disc making the set less cumbersome. The price is a bit steep for what you're getting as well but given the quality of the series, packaging and extras, makes this a worthwhile edition to pick up.
Twelve episodes spread over six discs presented in a high quality anamorphic widescreen presentation, ensures that the image quality of the show is kept sharp, clear and with nice, robust rustic colors. The 5.1 sound mix actively surrounds you in the environment of the old west. Since much of this drama is dialogue based the 5.1 atmosphere comes across most effectively when there's action sequences.
Although this isn't an extra per se, the designing and packaging of this series makes "Deadwood" special right away. One of the best packaged boxed sets I've seen, the box resembles the Star Trek: The Next Generation sets with a sturdy outer box and an accordion fold out holder for the DVDs. It's big, bulky and personally I like the package that way. Sure, it takes up a lot of space but, hey, it's better than some of the flimsy packaging we've seen lately with these expense sets. While there isn't any booklet to tell you about the show, each episode has a brief synopsis of each one. There's also a preview and recap for each and every episode included.
There's a featurette on the making of the show with a generous helping of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Milch and the cast. Featuring vintage photographs of the actual Deadwood. Milch, the cast and crew appear in the featurette as well discussing the intersection of fiction and reality in this 25 minute glimpse into the inspiration for the show. Milch and his collaborators discuss both the attraction of the town and the mythos that it represented. Essentially a promo piece for the series it also provides a nice introduction to the series with a generous helping of clips from the show. Interviews with local historians highlight the featurette on the real Deadwood. Keith Carradine and Milch interview each other for "The Language of the Old West". There's a number of commentary tracks with Milch and most of the main cast. The quality of the commentary tracks vary quite a bit but all are informative and interesting.
A terrific series well packaged (but you end up paying for the packaging) with excellent extras, "Deadwood" will keep you involved in the petty dealings of saloon owner Swearengen and his conflicts with the residents and prospectors of the town.
Ian McShane! Keith Carradine! This is the real deal!
Adam C. Donnelly | Albany, NY USA | 02/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Deadwood, the latest product from David Milch, is an intelligent, authenic and foulmouthed western that just actually may be one of the most well written shows of all time. You can put up on the same pedestal as Milch's Hill Street Blues, West Wing, X-files and the Sopranos, all of which exemplify continuously unflawed scriptwriting which is a real feat for weekly ongoing dramas. Set in the squalid, illegal town of Deadwood, South Dakota, the show recreates a hyperrealistic, gritty vision of the old west without dispensing the classic iconography and romanticism we usually associate with it. The formula is there: lawless town, the hero rides in, there's the mustached coniving villain, the damsel, the weasel, the harlot, the sidekick, the town drunk, the quick draw, the indian; everything we expect to see is there and it shows it to us in a way we can actually beleve in, it refuses to compromise the integrity of it's vision by avoiding offense to viewers. It tries very hard to recreate a time period and never glosses over 19th century life where everyone walks around in pressed, clean clothes, clean streets sitting inside under flourescent lighting instead of lanterns. Gunsmoke it ain't. It takes the classic modern western cliche and turns them into a harsh brutal reality, propelling it with some seriously guttaral, poetic 19th century dialougue. This is seriously action packed dialogue, folks, that'll rattle and richocet in your mind for awhile and the cast is just awesome across the board. Keith Carradine is tragic and powerful as the tired, burned out Wild Bill; Timothy Olyphant as the angry hero, Seth Bullock, Molly Parker as the grieving widdow and Brad Douriff is terrific as the tormented town doctor. But it's British actor Ian McShane who's the real phenomenon of the series as the Villain; the calculating, ruthless barkeep and town boss Al Swerengen, who literally, eats the set. He drives this show playing a wild character that has no qualms about killing people with his bare hands and at the same time posesses a sensitivity and obligation to helping and saving the town. McShane is one of the best actors of today and since he's spent most of his career underground, it's great that he's finally gone mainstream. It's like watching Pacino or Spacey, that sort of kinetic, riotous performance, he's that good. The show definately belongs to him. And be forewarned before you watch it. McShane say's c***sucker constantly with so much flare, so much panache and relentless audacity that you'll wind up saying it all the time too. Hey, it's catchy dialogue. (It also has the best theme song of any show.)"