DEADWOOD Saturday 25 August, 2012

Is it better to have loved Deadwood and lost it than to have never loved Deadwood at all?

It’s a tough call but I suppose it has to be a bittersweet ‘Yes’.

Let me start by saying that I find most of the genre of Westerns to be tiresome. Growing up I was always much more interested in sci-fi and that still holds true now. I find it difficult to gather about me the few particles of interest that I have for period dramas. At least with some period dramas you actually have buildings. The western seems to be populated by shacks, mud and livestock. It’s like playing a computer game which employed early 3D modelling techiniques…endless fucking seas of brown.

I ask you to take the aforementioned into account when I tell you that Deadwood is truly brilliant. It’s so good that it managed to puncture the, quite formidable, disinterest that I have for westerns. If other westerns were like this I’d watch them all. Actually, if other TV shows were like this I’d watch them all. Alas, they’re not.

What could possibly be so good about Deadwood? It got axed after just three series, didn’t it? I’m very sad to say that this is true. Don’t let that terribly harsh judgement fool you though. Remind yourself that this show was axed, no doubt due to ever diminishing ratings, in a country that didn’t like Arrested Development, Family Guy or Futurama! Deadwood is just another entry in a long list of shame for the U.S. of A.

The show charts the development of a gold rush encampment from camp to fully fledged town. It manages to convincingly weave together fact and fiction. Deadwood is a real town and many of the characters in the show are based on real historical figures.

That sounds pretty dull, right? The thing is it could so easily have been really dull but the presentation is the key here. This is a bawdy, crude, violent and often disgusting portrayal of the early settlers. You will unlikely have heard swearing like this on TV before or since.

The real star of the show is Al Swearengen, played by Ian MacShane. It’s odd for a UK audience because he is and forever shall be Lovejoy. I think it’s testament to his great skill as an actor that within a few episodes he will forever be Al Swearengen in your mind. Swearengen is the ruthless proprietor of ‘The Gem’, the town’s first bar and brothel. He also acts as the unofficial ruler of the town. You will see him do despicable things, treat people terribly and you will love him. MacShane clearly relishes the role and delivers the fantastically sweary put-downs with great gusto. It may not have quite the same imagination or panache that Malcolm Tucker’s swearing does but Al Swearengen swears with a genuine earthy understanding of how to do it and what it means. Top notch swearing.

MacShane is ably supported by an excellent cast. Powers Boothe is wonderfully icy as rival pimp Cy Tolliver. The only real weak link of the show is Timothy Oliphant as Seth Bullock. Whether he’s mean to look like a meerkat with trapped wind or that’s just his default mode of expression is unclear. It seems like such an integral character should have offered so much more than he does though. It’s a small failing and the sheer joy of watching MacShane and the others try to outdo each other at being unpleasant more than makes up for it.

In and amongst all the violence and muck though are some truly hilarious moments. This series has it all. Tension, political intrigue and brilliant comedy. No mean feat.

It’s therefore a crying shame that we will never get to find out the fate of the characters that you will have formed a real bond with after three series. Apparently the chances of anything ever happening are exceptionally remote. You’ll probably struggle to even find the DVDs on a shop shelf now.

Track down a copy as soon as you can and start practicing your swearing, “cocksucker”.


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One Comment

  • Carl Hanser says:

    Admittedly I’m only halfway through season 2; but I have to disagree with you on the Bullock issue, sure Olyphant seems to have as much range as a prolapsed anus…but if anything he [Bullock] is the reinvention of the man with no name.

    Whereas in the classical Sergio Leone tradition Eastwood would wander from town to town righting wrongs and pissing people off.
    In Deadwood Bullock is forced to live an almost suburban existence a fact brought to the fore when forced to accept the decisions of his past.
    Bullock is the seething fury in the midst of a much bigger storm, forever attempting to see the grey in Swearengen’s black and white world.

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