Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Deadwood Season One

I've just finished watching the first season of Deadwood, a show that I'd heard about when it first came out in the US and received rave reviews. It was probably on one of the pay tv channels here not long after, but since I don't have that – I watch enough tv as it is, and can't justify spending the money – I only got to watch it when ABC2 picked it up and started showing it earlier this year1.

1I had contemplated buying it on dvd, but hadn't gotten around to it.

If you didn't already know...

The show is set in the town of the same name in what is now the US state of South Dakota, in the 187os. The Civil War is over but there is still fighting between the American settlers and the Native American traditional owners. Gold mining is a boom industry, and in South Dakota at the time a rash of discoveries led to what was called the Black Hills Gold Rush. Life in the gold mining settlements isn't easy, and the desire to strike it rich has led tough, desperate people to the region to seek their fortunes.

The characters

While the era itself is an interesting one, it's really the characters of the show that make it so damn good.

The regulars

Chief powerbroker in the settlement is Al Swearengen, the ill-tempered, foul-mouthed owner of the saloon/brothel The Gem; he's a curious mixture of keen business acumen and brutal pragmatism – during the course of first season alone he either murders (or orders the murders of) at least half a dozen people.

He has a team of henchmen in various capacities around the town – Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown3) and Sean Bridgers work in the saloon and do other odd (and dirty) jobs for Al. Then there's the weaselly E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson4), proprietor of The Grand Central Hotel; he's Al's flunky and frequent co-conspirator.

But a spanner falls into the works – in the form of sherriff-turned-hardware-store-owner Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant5), who, with his partner Sol Star, move to Deadwood to open a store. Seth has little interest in taking on the role of law enforcement for the settlement, but he finds himself helping people nonetheless.

Making matters even more complicated is the arrival of Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), who opens a saloon/brothel of his own (the Bella Union) – and before long is revealed to be almost as nasty and ambitious as Al.

There's also Trixie, one of Al's prostitutes and his preferred companion; Doc Cochran (the truly awesome Brad Dourif6), the camp doctor; A.W. Merrick (Jeffrey Jones), publisher of the local newspaper; and Mr Wu, unofficial representative of the Chinese contingent who has dealings with Al.

3Whose biggest role prior to Deadwood was as Mary's mentally challenged brother Warren in There's Something About Mary.
4William Sanderson, who now plays Sheriff Bud Dearborn in True Blood.
5Who was in Hitman, but shouldn't have been 'cause he's not one of those people who have the sort of head that looks good shaved. I know, 'cause I've got the same problem.
6Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings films, and Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Coming and going

As is pretty standard for a show like this, there are some great guest appearances. My favourite from season one is Kristen Bell, whose nasty, foul-mouthed7 grifter character took me back to that wonderful moment during Cruel Intentions when Sarah Michelle Gellar's character Katherine shook her head at Cecile's stupidity, said 'fucking idiot', and in doing so – in my mind at least – reached stratospheric levels of hotness8.

Several characters are taken straight out of history - 'Wild' Bill Hickock, gunfighter and gambler and his offisders Charlie Utter and 'Calamity' Jane; General George R. Crook (Peter Coyote9); and Jack McCall, (Garrett Dillahunt10).

Psych's Carlon Lassiter (Timothy Omundsen) is New York fish-out-of-water Brom Garrett; magician Ricky Jay is Eddie Sawyer, a dealer for Cy Tolliver; frequent bit-parter Kim Dickens is Joanie Stubbs, another of Cy's employees. Titus Welliver (who I recently wrote about in my review of The Town), is another very nasty fellow, Silas Adams, a 'road agent' who comes to work for Al.

7Not as foul-mouthed as Al, though – sadly.
8I've come to realise I have a thing for nasty, manipulative women. Who swear.
9A man whose name you mightn't know, but whose awesome voice you've almost certainly heard; it was him in the iPad ads.
10Did some great work in Life (the series), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and No Country for Old Men. The characters he played in all three died – make of that what you will.

Only on cable

Frequent swearing11, nudity, sex and brutal, graphic violence are common – and there's no way that gets shown on network television in the US. But without all of that it wouldn't be half as good as it is.

11Al's favourite word, for example, appears to be 'cocksucker'. It's also the only word in English Mr Wu seems to know.

Like I said before, it's about the characters

Which means that it isn't, as a general rule, fast-paced. Some episodes are quite slow-going, but everything that happens is part of the bigger picture, and will contain at least some development for one or more of the characters. And, despite the sometimes sluggish progress, it's still captivating. Plus the relative lack of action means that when there is some excitement – and there are a few points at which a whole lot starts to happen at once – it's a great contrast.

Season 1 didn't cover – or, at least, didn't seem to cover – very much time; it really feels like it's just the first chapter of a very interesting story. So now I'm totally hanging out for Season 2 – I just have to wait and see if ABC2 will show it. Otherwise I'll be browsing for it on dvd.

1 comment:

  1. I contest you on that point about William Sanderson, he stared in Blade Runner. :)