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I searched for Deadwood, because I think it may be the best dramatic television show ever, and found no thread. But it seems like finding appropriate threads can be tricky sometimes. So please let me know if there is another one. If not, is there anyone out there who agrees with me, or better yet, disagrees with me. I'll save most of my thoughts for later when I see if anyone wants to talk. (actually, I mostly just don't have time right now ::blush:: )

Deadwood. Huzzah?

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Thanks for starting this thread, even though I won't be able to contribute much because I don't have HBO and have never seen the show. However, David Lavery, editor of a forthcoming collection of essays about Deadwood, whose opinion on all things televised I respect greatly, was enthusing over it last month at the "Slayage" conference, so it's probably worth discussing.

In a recent column about literary allusions on TV, Lavery noted:

Not surprisingly, Deadwood, created by former Yale University English professor David Milch and written in a language indebted to both Shakespeare and the Victorian novel, offers many a literary reference (did Alma Garrett just compare Miss Isringhausen to Cotton Mather?).

"The Allusions of Television"

At the same time, I suspect Deadwood will never be my kind of show, in the same way that The Sopranos won't, or Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. Intellectually, I can admit the achievement, I guess, but emotionally, I find it difficult to connect with any of the characters. Probably a flaw on my part.

Edited by BethR

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I tried to watch a couple of episodes and it felt, to me, as if the writers sat around going, "How can we make it darker." "Okay, that's a good line, but how many expletives can we pack into it?" "Wait a minute... I thought I saw a glimmer of hope there. Squelch it! Bleaker, boys, bleaker!"

But I've only seen a couple of episodes. Maybe if I saw it in sequence and in context it would work better. I was impressed with a few of the actors, though.

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As much as I hate to add to the "I haven't seen it, but..." kinds of replies, I'm going to do it anyway. We're going to a "Deadwood" themed party this Friday night. Neither my husband nor I have seen an episode or ever intend to. When the show first aired, many of our historically-minded friends were all atwitter over it...then plunged into despair and disappointment after a few episodes. They loved the look overall, the props, the costumes, etc., but what I kept hearing was "too dark!", "too vulgar!", "nasty language!" (and these comments are from some pretty earthy characters, mind you). Yes, the "old west" has been whitewashed by Hollywood in the past, but even in the roughest railhead towns there were limits to colorful language. Yes, most of our modern vulgarities existed by the late 19th century, and often much earlier, but was this part of everyday speech anywhere but on the docks/railroad gang/mines? Not really, and especially in the presence of women. For some eyebrow-raising reading, peruse the books full of letters written by Civil War soldiers to each other. The ones they wrote home to mother or sister or in a professional bent are most certainly NOT full of expletives.

I little vulgarity lends verisimilitude, too much becomes wearisome. I don't want that kind of thing rattling around in my brain, so I'll beg off, thanks.

Neb

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I realize I'm pulling a topic out of mothballs here, but recently my husband and I watched the first four episodes of Deadwood--and while I'm still not entirely sure how to think about the series, I must admit I am finding it compelling. Heh, we knew the language was bad before we got the DVD, so when we watched we made sure the children were in bed and turned down the television volume so low that we eventually had to turn on the subtitles so we could catch all the dialogue

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Oh, thanks a ton for linking to that Salon interview with Milch. The Deadwood complete set was under the Christmas tree with my name on it (thanks, darling!) and we've been taking an episode or two a night for the past week. Six hours in and we're at that place where you find yourself thinking about a show when you're not watching it. This bitterly cold Pittsburgh winter can stay cold; we're not going anywhere but under a blanket and in front of a television for the next month when the kids are abed.

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Deadwood was an outstanding television series. What a shame that HBO abandoned it without any story conclusion. Then again, better that than a hopeless final season which was the fate of nu-BSG.

EDIT: typo

Edited by Ambler

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There are a few important shows that I feel like I should see and am slowly making my way through. I came to "The Wire," "Mad Men," and "Breaking Bad" way after they had developed cult followings, but my quest continues. The main ones that I really have left are "The Sopranos" (I know, right?), "Homicide" (which I recently started watching with my wife), and "Deadwood." And I watched the first episode of "Deadwood" on HBOGO recently and REALLY liked it. As a fan of "Justified" I already really like Timothy Olyphant and I'm a sucker for just about all things Western. And it is clear to me after one episode why Ian McShane becomes kind of the face of the show. Wow.

Looks like it will be a fascinating show about law and morality and community. I've read a little bit about how the show focuses on the birth of society and how a community's formation is affected by the symbols it is built around, in this case, I believe, gold. Despite a little reading, I've managed to avoid spoilers involving the characters and plots.

Of course, you can't talk about "Deadwood" now without talking about its non-ending and the disagreement between HBO and Paramount that ended the show abruptly (and unplanned) after season 3. And it does sadden me that there are only 35 episodes left for me to watch. But I'm excited. Critic extraordinaire, Matt Zoller Seitz, has said in various places that this is his favorite show of all-time, even over "The Wire." GASP!

Not a lot of people have commented in this thread, any other A&Fers love (or hate) "Deadwood"? Alan Sepinwall is doing season 1 for his summer re-watch series this year. Might be a good time to start.

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Regarding the language, yeah, it was extreme, but felt kind of poetic.

I observed in conversation with Josh Hurst the other day that it takes a special talent to write profanity like this. Most of the time, I'd say profanity makes dialogue boring and uninspired, but some people are able to make profanity sound sharp and almost eloquent.

Three come to mind, in particular: David Simon, David Mamet, and David Milch (based on what I've seen in "Deadwood" so far). I guess you have to be named David.

Does David Chase exhibit this same skill in "The Sopranos"?

Edited by Gavin Breeden

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Not a lot of people have commented in this thread, any other A&Fers love (or hate) "Deadwood"?

I love it. It's the sort of TV show I could see Johnny Cash appreciating. In my estimation, out of all TV Shows ever made, it's second only to The Wire, and that may only be because The Wire was given more seasons. After you've finished the first season, also let me know what you think of Brad Dourif's Doc Cochrane and Ray McKinnon's Reverend Smith. At first I thought Reverend Smith was just going to be another of those crazy Christians, but things turn out a little differently than I was expecting. It's no coincidence how his work, words, character and suffering affects the people around him.

Regarding the language, yeah, it was extreme, but felt kind of poetic.

I observed in conversation with Josh Hurst the other day that it takes a special talent to write profanity like this. Most of the time, I'd say profanity makes dialogue boring and uninspired, but some people are able to make profanity sound sharp and almost eloquent.

Pretty much, it's basically Charles Dickens, except cussing old English/American.

Does David Chase exhibit this same skill in "The Sopranos"?

Close. It's a different brand of genius, but genius all the same.

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I'm only 2 episodes in, but I'm already captivated. I can easily see this being another 'Wire'-type experience for me, with its immersive sense of place and time and deeply portrayed characters across social strata battling for their souls with their quotidian choices in a brutal world, expressing themselves with superbly scripted potty mouths. I can't wait to see what Calamity Jane, the Doc, and several other characters do next...

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Made it to the first truly great episode of this show, "Here was a Man." For those who've seen the show, this is one of the early episodes in season 1 in which a certain character dies.

The sequence at the end of the episode where we see the effects of this event almost literally rippling through Deadwood was thrilling television. It's a mostly wordless scene, in which the actors' faces convey a lot. I realized while watching it how well developed many of these characters already are. There is tension to see how some of them are going to react to what has happened.

I also loved how right in the middle of this sequence, a man comes riding into town carrying the head of a Native American. It has little to do with the event at hand (at least to my knowledge right now), but conveys this awful sense of dread and provides further proof of how violent the world of "Deadwood" is. The man riding into town is slightly in slow motion, giving it this unreal, almost dream-like quality. It was pretty brilliant.

And it seems that several of the season story arcs were kicked off in this episode, including the death and the illness.

Anyway, I'm loving this show.

EDIT: I've also loved the compassion of the doctor, the minister, and, surprisingly, Calamity Jane. Jane was a pretty annoying character at first but I've definitely warmed to her over the last couple episodes. Seth Bullock has displayed some level of compassion, but he is also a pretty angry guy at times, sometimes rightfully so. Anyway, I've found the compassion of the three previously mentioned characters to be the one bright spot in this fairly dark show.

The minister, so far, has been a pretty admirable example of the Christian faith.

Edited by Gavin Breeden

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Made it to the first truly great episode of this show, "Here was a Man." For those who've seen the show, this is one of the early episodes in season 1 in which a certain character dies.

The minister, so far, has been a pretty admirable example of the Christian faith.

Gavin, have you made it to the next episode yet? I just watched it today, and the Christian aspects of the series just became bolded, italicized, and underlined in a fascinating way (even with the music over the closing credits). I, too, worried that the minister would become lampooned as a raving nutjob, but wow, not so - I love how he's challenging Bullock to find his calling and direct his passion for justice in a more substantive way than just watching Wild Bill's back.

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Listen closely to everything Reverend Smith says. He actually gives some beautiful prayers, and even at times says things that [a] first sound a little crazy, and then turn out to have far more depth to them than they at first appear to.

And if you wonder at what the show does to his character as the season keeps progressing, yes, it is mostly historically based on what happened to the real character.

Edited by Persiflage

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Listen closely to everything Reverend Smith says. He actually gives some beautiful prayers, and even at times says things that [a] first sound a little crazy, and then turn out to have far more depth to them than they at first appear to.

And if you wonder at what the show does to his character as the season keeps progressing, yes, it is mostly historically based on what happened to the real character.

Yep, I was thinking during the episode I watched yesterday, that it contained some of the most beautiful preaching I'd heard in a long time. I had no idea that Smith was based on a real character - that's wonderful.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Hmm, I'm 4/5 of the way through the second season, and I have to admit, I'm feeling some frustration and flagging interest. I'd love to know 1) am I the only one here who's felt this way about Deadwood, and 2) does the show get better?

Here's what I'm seeing:

- too many plot developments, too little motivation: I suppose it's a dangerous thing to compare any TV program to 'The Wire,' but in that series, even when there was lots going on, the motivations were clear, however bad or half-assed those reasons might've been for a given character. Here, we've got drastic changes in relationships that seem sudden and inexplicable.

- shock vs. snooze: At times, the plot turns seem motivated more by a desire to shock the viewer than to serve a greater story - e.g., the whore murders, William's injury, Sheriff's and Swearengen's fight and topple off the balcony. Sometimes, it feels like the weaker sections of the 'Homicide' TV series, when one wondered which cop would get shot and end up in the ICU next. (In my uncharitable moments, I wonder, too, if Lee will suddenly bring out a sharktank for the barkeep to jump over with his velocipede.)

At other times, some of the interactions seem amateurish and feel like filler, such as this recent interaction between Joanie Stubbs and Calamity Jane:

- Joan: Won't you come into my whorehouse?

- Jane: F***, no!

- Joan: Won't you, please?

- Jane: F***, no!

- Joan: Oh, all right then.

- Jane: (pause and turn) Well, OK...

I wonder if some of these problems relate to having a different writer for each episode, such that a deeper sense of motivation and plot gets lost in the shuffle, with an accompanying need to shock at some point in each episode. This seemed painfully obvious in the most recent episode, when the fact that something awful would happen to William was telegraphed ridiculously far in advance.

And is it just me, or does some of the acting seem rather wooden?

On the other hand, I find some of the characters fascinating, and when the dialogue is good, it can crackle, such as Swearengen's motivational speech to Merrick (aka, Ferris Bueller's principal) and Mr. W's final words to the murderous brother.

Edited by Andrew

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Andrew, there are occasional weak episodes, and Deadwood certainly doesn't have the neat plotting that makes The Wire so impossibly powerful, but if you've enjoyed the show through most of its run so far, I'd encourage you to finish it. The show's main strengths are its characters and its deep interest in the connections between violence, order, and sorrow. Those continue to be its strengths in the final season, when a few new characters enter the scene and disrupt the balance. Season 2 is the weakest of the three, I think.

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I'm glad I've stuck with it - Season 3 is compelling stuff, with the tension between Hearst, Swearengen, and Bullock ratcheting higher and higher. I'm bummed out that I'm up to Disc 5, and then there's no more.

There are some wonderful lines scattered throughout all 3 seasons. A couple of recent favorites:

George Hearst: 'Elections cannot inconvenience me. They ratify my will or I neuter them.' [the more that changes...]

Joanie Stubbs: 'Does it trouble you, keeping watch on a dark place?'

Watchman: 'No, ma'am, it does not. Especially when I know there's light coming to it.'

Or, from Season 2, Swearengen roughly exhorting newspaperman Merrick: 'Pain or damage don’t end the world, or despair or f***ing beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.'

(Yes, I keep a favorite quote file.)

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Hey, we have a dedicated thread for Deadwood! I'd posted elsewhere that my wife and I had started watching Season 1.

I haven't read through this entire thread, but I'm sure my issue with the show isn't unique: We're about two-thirds of the way through Season 1, and it's become clear that Ian McShane simply blows Timothy Olyphant off the screen. Not that they're in too many scenes together -- not yet, anyway -- but McShane's performance, while growing increasingly one-dimensional, is much more compelling than Olyphant's. Maybe I'm wrong to think of those two characters as the show's dominant personalities, with one presumably more good-hearted than the other.

Also, the dialogue, which I'd heard takes some getting used to, hasn't been much of an issue, especially in the case of Swearengen: f--kin' as an adjective is pretty commonplace these days. Hearing it used over and over again in Deadwood isn't so much challenging as it is depressing. That's considered great writing? (I should note that I've seen two movies this week with the same problem: Someone was apparently paid good money to put variations of the phrase, "WHAT THE F--K?!!" into the mouths of the movies' characters multiple times. I guess I'm not supposed to give this a second thought?)

Edited by Christian

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It's TV Premiere Week -- or was last week, or maybe the week before -- which used to mark the end of summer reruns, and the break point where the Hamakers would start watching over-the-air broadcast TV again after taking the summer off. Over-the-top video / online streaming has made that paradigm pretty much irrelevant. Sarah and I simply didn't watch any shows over-the-air last season. I watched Smash each week after it aired, online, but no other new shows -- or other broadcast shows from last season.

Still, when summer rolled around, we dedicated ourselves to Deadwood. As of two weeks ago, when the new TV season was beginning, we'd knocked out two seasons' worth of episodes. Season 2 looked like it would build to a similarly strong conclusion as Season 1 had; my experience was that the show didn't really click for me until the concluding episodes of its first season. Instead, my interest waned a bit toward the end of Season 2.

Tonight we dove into Season 3. We'll just continue with that this fall. I'm not sure how long it'll take us to get through the show's final season. The first episode was a good one. Wish I had more to offer about the show's development, but I'm not sure there's much development on offer. The performances and look of the show continue to carry it, and to justify continued viewing.

Also, there's a Six Degrees of Deadwood thing developing in my life. The connections to this show have surprised me more than once. In talking with the co-worker who lent me her Deadwood DVDs, I've learned that the actors have cropped up in other movies I've seen.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I met John Hawkes at a pre-screening meet-and-greet for The Sessions. I gushed a bit about Deadwood and his role in it, and asked if he ever acted with those cast members after the show ended.

"Two of them are in The Sessions," he told me.

[slaps forehead, should've checked IMDB before the meet-and-greet!]

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A terrific reminiscing of Deadwood over at Den of Geek. This is a British site, and I found this passage about Ian McShane particularly delightful...

I have been a Deadwood evangelist for almost ten years, and the biggest problem I have found has been in convincing people to watch a show featuring Ian McShane. It seems that some people’s memories of his twinkly-eyed, roguish antiques dealer Lovejoy doesn’t bear challenge.

This would be mildly amusing if it were not for the fact that one of the best reasons for watching is Ian McShane. From a cast that delivers almost uniformly excellent performances, McShane is primus inter pares. He invests Al Swearengen with an almost elemental power, pushing out every line in a deep growl that is at once natural and terrifying. It is a role requiring a terrible charisma, which McShane delivers superbly. His performance is supported by brilliant plotting and characterisation, making Swearengen crucial to the development of the town. He is a murderer, a pimp, a drug dealer, a shrewd manipulator who exploits the weak and beats women. He cheats, lies and connives his way through life. Along the way he helped to build America. It is a difficult truth that the modern world has such fingerprints on it.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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HBO Zone is going to be running a 36 hour Deadwood marathon beginning March 15th, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the shows premiere.  HBO Signature will show the series in full, one episode a night, beginning April 2nd.

Story here.

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