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Deadwood..a show that died too soon...

  • May 15, 2009
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                     Deadwood..Season One...

One televison series I miss greatly is "Deadwood."  It died so young...only three seasons.

It's creator David Milch never intended for the show to last very long, (he said he planned only for 4 years) But HBO canceled the show after only three.  This review will deal only with the show's first year, which set the tone for the two seasons that followed.

The show's opening credits list Timothy Oliphant (Seth Bullock) first, which in the cant of the entertainment industy makes him the 'star" of the show.  He's not, (something we will deal with a bit later)but since he is listed first, we'll talk about him first.  Bullock, as protrayed by Oliphant, is a brooding, hot-tempered, explosive man and it is hard to like him though his partner, Sol Starr does.  (One thing to note here; Bullock, Starr and indeed most of the cast of "Deadwood" were real hisorical people. For the purposes of this review, hisorical characters will be denoted as (H) and composite or fictional characters will be denoted (F).)   Bullock was a lawman in Montana before coming to Deadwood, and eventually becomes a sheriff here too.  But as the season opens, all he wants to do is open and run a hardware store with Starr.  They rent a lot, put up a tentas their store and start out, becoming almost instantly successful. This is historical fact.  The real way to make a fortune in a mining camp was to "mine the miners."  But Bullock wants a permanent building to work from and to get it he has to buy the lot he is renting from its owner, saloon/brothel owner Al Swearengen (H) played by Ian McShane.

McShane, regardless of what the credits say, is the real star of Deadwood and his protrayal of  Swearengen is perfect.  The real Swearengen was not English, but other than that, McShane does not put a foot wrong. It would very easy to say Swearengen is the "villian' of Deadwood, but it would not be accuarate either.  Al is 100% ruthless, kills without compunction or regret, but he is only what life has made him and as protrayed by McShane is capable of moments of...well...if not kindness then at least understanding.  It is a matter of historical record that the historical Swearengen was, by all accounts, a 100% son-of-a-bitch 100% of the time, with no give in him. The McShane Swearengen is not like that.  Yes in the first episode of the series he calmly orders a murder, commits a murder himself, knocks down Trixie (F) one his whores and as she is laying on the floor, puts his boot on her throat and presses down, saying "No matter how this works out, I'm only going to have to do this once..."  It is Swearengen who plots to kill a child. But this same man, when smallpox strikes the camp later, and finds one of his whores in tears from fear, understands... and puts her on "light duty' so to speak.  Neither can Al bring himself to kill the child that could possbily unravel his whole operatation.  It is Swearengen, who, when the camp's minister Rev Smith (H) 'fits' become worse and worse, offers the stricken minister a place to bed down.  And when the fits become uncontrollable, making the Revernd's life a living hell, it is Sweargengen who "takes the sin on his own head' and gently, and without pain, puts Smith out of his misery.

Another notable character is Dr. Amos Cochran, (F) played by Brad Dourif.Cochran is on the run from a body snatching charge, (19th century docs had to supply their own bodies for anatomy study, so grave robbing was a big business back then) and is also "hiding" (apparently) from brutal memories of the War Between The States.  He has a foot in the 19th century camp of quack remedies and giving out addictive substances, but also dabbles in herbal rememdies and is slowly going over to beginnings of modern medicine.  Cochran is basically a compassionate man who is "trapped' so to speak, in a profession that in the 19th century was anything but compassionate.

One of the best things about Deadwood was the acting and nowhere is this more noticable than in two of the "minor' roles...Robin Weigert's Calamity Jane (H), Keith Carradine's Wild Bill Hickok(H). Minor roles may not be the best way to put this, since Hickok is almost the central focus in the first 4 episodes, and Jane has considerable importance through out the season.  Weigert's Jane is probably more accurate for the latter part of her life than for her "Deadwood years" but that is nitpicking...As for Carradine, what can I say? I've been a fan of Westerns for my entire life, (over half a century) and Carradine's Hickok is the best,most accurate that I have seen.  The Carradine Hickok so struck me that I felt really let down after Episode 4 when he was killed even though I knew it was coming.

And then there is Cy Tolliver (F) and Joanie Stubbs, (F)...Tolliver is the "true" villian of Deadwood. A man of pure evil. You know the old saying "If you can't say something good about someone, then don't say anything at all?"  I'm saying nothing else about Cy Tolliver. (Powers Boothe does a great job protraying him though)

There is not much you can say about Joanie Stubbs either, at least as season one goes.  Played by Kim Dickens, she is arguebly the most beautiful woman on the show, and Dickens plays her as the madam with a conscience...in seasons two and three she assumes considerably more importance and becomes one of the most complicated characters in the series.

Larry Sanderson's E.B. Farnum (H) is also a character that develops more as time progresses.  But he always remains EB, (historically nowhere near as slimy as Sanderson makes him) and after any scene he is in, you want to wash your hands.

Unlike many of those who watch the show, I have never been taken with Alma Garrett (F) as played by Molly Parker. Parker is a good enough actress but I just have never especially like the Alma Garrett character.

Yes I am leaving a lot out and skipping over more...but never fear..we'll visit the muddy streets of Deadwood again...

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May 22, 2009
I thought the first season of Deadwood was phenomenal. When it came out on HBO I thought it was much better than The Sopranos. Great write up!
May 22, 2009
Wow- This is a very informative review, @macknnc! You know a lot about the actors and characters! I heard very good things about Deadwood, but was never sure if it was for me. What other shows is it comparable to? What kind of viewer do you think would appreciate it? Can't wait to hear more!
More Deadwood (TV show) reviews
review by . December 15, 2008
Created and executive produced by David Milch ("NYPD Blue"), Deadwood has been one of the most acclaimed dramas on television. The series was nominated for 22 Emmys and won 7, and earned a Golden Globe Award in its first two seasons for Ian McShane.     By far, my favorite character on Deadwood would be Al Swearengen, played by Ian McShane. However, there are many other very talented actors on the set, including Brad Dourif, who plays the growly yet loyal Doc Cochran; …
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