Deadwood has a reputation as a really too-notch series that HBO for some reason canceled prematurely.
Let’s take a look at it for the next couple months.
Deadwood was created by writer/producer David Milch. Milch was one of three powerhouse writer/producers named David that seemed to work at HBO for a period, the others being David Simon and David Chase. Milch I have the least experience with, as the only other time I’ve seen anything of his work was the pilot episode of another HBO series, a horse racing drama called Luck that Milch had deliberately written to be confusing so that only devoted fans would stick around after that as things weren’t explained until a couple episodes later. That’s a rather horrible way to build an audience, all-told.
But here we have a quasi-historical setting, where many of the characters were based off real people, and we have what looks like to be competing forces of good and evil in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood, see, is in Indian territory, and there’s a gold rush to the area. Since it’s in Indian territory, that technically makes it a lawless land. As such, all kinds of people seem to be moving out there. Many of them are played by fairly recognizable character actors, too.
But the main stars are two characters that probably represent dueling sides of a moral spectrum. On the side of “good” (and I’m not sure how good he is), there’s Seth Bullock. He’s a former U.S. Marshall from the Montana territory looking to set up a hardware story with his longtime partner Sol Star (who’s Jewish). We see Seth administer a final act of justice by speeding up an execution for a condemned criminal before a lynch mob got him, and he goes to investigate an “Indian massacre” that turned out to be a very ugly robbery. Whatever law there is in a town like Deadwood may be whatever he can deliver himself with his guns.
He may also get an assist there from Will Bill Hickok, in town for some unknown reason, a man feared as the greatest gunslinger in the world. Hickok brought Calamity Jane with him, and she looks like trouble herself.
On the other side is Al Swearengen, owner of the local salon/brothel. He’s a much more morally shifty figure, maybe not quite evil, but certainly cynical and out to make a buck anyway he can. Learning of the potential massacre doesn’t cause him to feel an ounce of pity for the dead, but it does have him worried his customers will stop drinking, gambling, and hiring his prostitutes. He’s the guy who doesn’t hit the messenger. He’s the guy who hits the guy that didn’t stop the messenger from talking.
Bullock and Swearengen are played by Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, respectively. Olyphant is fine. He’ll take some of these Seth-ish qualities with him to play U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens on the fun FX drama Justified, a show I really mean to finish someday. McShane just wowed the hell out of me on American Gods, and that’s the primary reason I opted to give Deadwood a try.
Let’s see how this one goes. So far, good stuff with a lot of heavy swearing on the horizon.
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