20 September 2011

Deadwood

The best TV show HBO has put out to date, and one of the best portrayals of "old west" has got to be "Deadwood". A tv show that ran in 3 seasons, and which was in the end cancelled leaving us with a abrupt ending.

I cannot stress how damn awesome this tv show is. The story takes place in the settlement of Deadwood, located in indian territory in the Black Hills. During the first season it is still called "camp" and you have very few real buildings and a lot of tents and hovels of dubious quality. As the show progressed the town really took shape, new buildings were raised and the gallery of characters was expanded.

The main storyline in season 1 follows Seth Bullock, a former sheriff going to Deadwood with his longtime friend Sol Star to start up a hardware business as the region is booming with a gold rush going on. Arriving at the camp they are soon introduced with the guy pretty much running the camp - saloon owner Al Swearengen, a ruthless yet cunning schemer who tries to analyze every single event taking place in camp to learn if it poses a threat to him or if he  can profit from it.

Also in camp is Alma Garret and her rich idiot husband who want to find  gold in the hills and prosper. Her husband soon gets killed by Swearengens muscleman Dan Dority and a lot of the plot revolves around why he was killed and how to get the widow Garret to sell that "worthless" piece of land obtained by her husband.

The relationship between Bullock and Swearengen start out with a brawl, but ends with Bullock being nominated the camp sheriff to have some sort of "controlled" law and order. The first season is packed with events. A family getting murdered, allegedly by indians. Old West legend Wild Bill Hickok arriving in camp with his retinue to try his luck with the cards, a rival saloon/brothel house sets up shop across Al Swearengens saloon setting up an instant rivalry with the new equally ruthless and scheming Cy Tolliver.

Al backing up the Chinese labour through their appointed spokesperson "Mr Wu" which creates a lot of hilarious scenes between them both as they try to communicate with sign language and a lot of "fucks" thrown in. Cy Tolliver and his goons set out to try to control the drugs, and offer a upper class gambling and whoring environment in their new joint. At the far end of camp bar owner Tom Nuttal owns the original sinkhole, where Wild Bill does a lot of gambling with the drunken scum of the camp.

Plague breaks out and the local reverend starts acting really weird as he himself suffers from an ailment, not to mention the fantastic character of Doc Cochran who tends to the whores, stab victims, sick and everyone else to forget the horrors of the civil war in which he took part. Easily one of the best characters on the show, you can feel his frustration as he is juggled between the power players.

We also have the highly entertaining, spineless creepy hotel owner E.B. Farnum who dresses like a dandy and have very high thoughts about himself, trying to be Al Swearengen’s trusted advisor but failing to realize what a buffoon he is. You got to love the way people around him are grossed out both by his sweaty palms, his kiss ass attitude and downright disgusting ways of running the hotel. Speaking of the hotel, the cook is a real specimen and possible the missing link between man and some cave dwelling mongrel, something often commented on by Farnum himself. Nevertheless, the cook is a highly sympathetic, though also highly repulsive person.

In season 2 and 3 a bucket load of new characters arrive into town. The king of assholes in the show, George Hearst, a powerful mining magnate who has come to Deadwood to mine gold and who does not give a flying fuck about anything else. With him he brings a whore killing maniac Francis Wollcot who acts as his messenger and right hand in Deadwood.

The fantastic quality of the characters, screenwriting, sets, acting and everything else is just amazing. Even the smallest of roles turn into memorable performances, like the snobby bible thumping moron Shaugnessy who own a boarding house. Every character feels real, multilayered and is highly memorable.

The story itself involves several story arcs, most of which are resolved by the end of the third season. The ending of the third season will be considered "half assed" the first time you see it. In a show where every single episode ranges from 8-10/10 in quality the last couple of minutes will most likely bum you out if you are not prepared for it. On subsequent watching’s of the show, it becomes a bit more bearable. Kind of feels like when I watched Kingdom of Heaven for the first time and went WTF? at the end, but on my second viewing I appreciated everything else leading up to that point even more.

If you have not yet seen this show, do yourself a favor and grab the 3 seasons on DVD and just watch it! I cannot really tell all the fantastic lines of dialogue, twists of fate and enough about all the characters in the show. It has to be seen by yourself.

7 comments:

  1. hear hear! Al Swearingen is the best character ever!

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  2. This show is fantastic! Actors are great particularly Ian McShane. My only problem with it is the ending or the lack of it rather, really frustrating.

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  3. Quality series, Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant are two of the best.

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  4. My girlfriend and I watched the entire 3 series on DVD in a marathon session(s) and loved it - one of the best things on the telly in recent years IMHO... ;)

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  5. It really was, a damn shame they did not end the show properly. I would love to see a proper ending to the Heart story arc, and see more of the theater troupe - Jack Langrishe was a favorite character of season 3 and would have loved to see more interaction and scenes with him and Al.

    Al Swearengen is probably the best "villain" character I've seen. With his special take on morals and justice, how he could scold and care for Jewel, and how he had to handle Bullocks temperamental outbursts was just awesome. Not to mention those fantastic scenes with Wu.

    Have not really seen McShane in anything since this show. Olyphant has made a few movies but nothing that comes close to the intensity of sheriff Bullock. He was great in "The Crazies though.

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  6. I've only ever seen bits of Deadwood when I've not been able to sleep and its been on TV late. The wife and I usually buy a couple of TV box sets at Xmas to watch over the holidays and this is on the list.

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  7. You forgot wild Bills side kicks calamity Jane and the guy who opens the mail service, this was and probably still is (although Rome and Game of thrones come very close) my favorite TV series, it was the first of a lot of gritty realistic series, I'm going to have to watch it again now, thanks for the memory jolt.

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