Deadwood: Season 1

Deadwood: Season 1

With HBO’s series Deadwood, the west
is taken to the extreme of realism

Deadwood: Season 1

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There has always been a fascination with the old west. From dime novels that where all the rage in the east to the earliest films and television shows this period of American history remains a fertile ground for story telling.

Usually, the versions we got the see where sanitized and softened so that there where clear cut heroes, the guys in the white hats, and bad guys, they wore the black. With HBO’s series Deadwood the west is taken to the extreme of realism. Unlike the Gunsmoke town of Dodge many of us grew up with the inhabitants of Deadwood, South Dakota in the year 1876 are rough, deadly and typically unwashed. The series begins a few short weeks after the infamous battle of Little Big Horn where General Custer and his troops met their doom a the hands of native American. Since this was long before the trend towards political correctness every racial slur possible is used to describe the ‘Indians’. The story opens with the arrival in Deadwood of Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine) and former U.S. Marshall Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). Once there they set upon carving out a new life in this lawless town. The boss of the town is Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), the proprietor of the Gem, the main saloon, casino and brothel. This is basically the Sopranos in the mud. Al is the boss of bosses and will do anything at all to ensure his profits continue to flow in. The town is the center of a gold rush and as soon as the prospectors find gold Al is more than willing to remove such a burden from them. Things heat up when a few events collide. Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe) opens a rival saloon across the street (if you can call a flat track of mud a street) from the Gem. Also in town is a naive city investor Brad Garrett (Timothy Omundson) and is beautiful addict of a wife Alma (Molly Parker). Al has to simultaneously connive to limit the success of the new saloon and rook the Garretts out of their incredibly gold rich property.

Deadwood: Season 1 takes its time in getting started. It eases the audience into the lives of these characters; let us get to know them, their back stories and their current motivations. A lot of research was done to bring Deadwood: Season 1 to life. The cast represents a mixture of real and fictionalized people but the sum effect is a grit that has never been shown concerning this era. Even the old town doctor, is broken down. Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) is one step past the line of alcoholism but still holds on to a modicum of respect for his profession. Its characters like this that creates a unique mood for Deadwood: Season 1. Even the prostitutes such as Trixie (Paula Malcomson) are devious, trying to gain a position with the widow Garrett while keeping her boss Swearengen in the dark. This is a side of the old west that most Hollywood venues don’t care to show; a town where a grudge is settled with a bullet and revenge was often at the end of a rope.

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen is simply put incredible. He is a man of relative power that knows he can order the death of anyone with just a word. Although McShane has some of the best dialogue in Deadwood: Season 1 I cannot quote a single line of it. He puts the ‘swear’ in Swearengen. He uses every curse word known and seems to have invented a few novel ones. McShane exudes power even while wearing a filthy set of long johns. To stand up to such a powerhouse a seasoned actor was required. Such a performer was found with Powers Boothe. While McShane is the overtly dangerous man, Boothe plays Cy with an undercurrent of violence. Well dressed he is the gentleman on the outside while just as capable as Swearengen in getting what he wants. Brad Dourif, perhaps best known as the voice of the Chucky doll here is the doctor that could not hold on to a practice in civilization. He evokes empathy in the audience especially when he cares for a crippled worker over at the Gem. It is worth noting that the handicapped young woman is played by Geri Jewell, an actress with Cerebral Palsy (you might remember her from Facts of Life). The two strongest female leads are Molly Parker as the widow and Kim Dickens as Joannie, the madam for Cy’s establishment. Both show women that are trapped in a man’s world, desperate to find some way of being self sufficient. This collection of extremely talented actors will draw you into Deadwood: Season 1 with the way they can bring you back to the feel of how people existed back then. Their performances never failed to entertain.

David Milch is the creative force behind Deadwood: Season 1. With shows such as NYPD Blue and Murder One behind him the lack of restrictions on HBO has liberated him to depict a time and place that was devoid of any semblance of civility. It’s not so much the permission to use nudity and profanity, and they are liberally utilized, but rather the ability to explore truly adult themes. Milch reportedly researched the real town of Deadwood for a year before setting upon the Deadwood: Season 1 project. His combination of real and fictional characters provides an edge to Deadwood: Season 1 that no other can match. Every scene is rich in period details; the stench almost comes through the screen. The lighting is often murky, the dust almost ever-present in every shot. Milch captures not only the look of Deadwood but through his actors the personal interactions.

Once again HBO knocks one out of the park with the Deadwood: Season 1 DVD release. The Dolby 5.1 audio is awesome, every little effort of the Foley artist is clear, every word of dialogue understandable. The full range of the audio is well balanced and full. The anamorphic video is equally of reference quality. This is the way the series deserves to be seen. The commentary tracks that accompany select episodes are interesting and go into just what a period piece of this scope required. This is augmented by a better than usual making of featurette. It took a lot of hard work to get Deadwood: Season 1 off the ground but thankfully for those that want quality television drama, they did it. Forget the westerns we grew up with, take a look of what things where really like and be thankful we live in the 21st century.

Movie Review of Deadwood: Season 1 by Doug MacLean of

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