I've said it many times before, but network television is, aside from a couple of bright spots ("Lost", "The Office") terrible. However, each year that passes gets closer to being embarassing, with reality shows like "America's Got Talent" (which is 99.9% people willing to embarass themselves to get on TV and .1% people with actual talent), "Dancing With the Stars" (whose major success still puzzles me) and "Last Comic Standing" (where the winner gets a development deal with NBC, which apparently has in the fine print that nothing will ever be developed for the winner) taking up more places on the schedule because they're cheaply made and can more easily turn a profit. Yet, while there's a few success stories, networks find that more and more people are tuning out.
Yet, all hope is not lost for those people actually seeking out quality scripted television, as cable TV keeps rolling out one great series after another, with "The Shield", "Rome", "Rescue Me", "Curb Your Enthusiasm", "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood." Cable TV actually takes risks, something seemingly unheard of in the entertainment industry today. Despite the Western genre having faded over the years (with a few exceptions), HBO still rolled the dice and found itself with another award-winning, critically praised drama on its hands. The series appears to be headed for the sunset (a fourth season was discussed, but it seems very likely that the show is at an end) after this third season, but it will reportedly finish with two movies.
Created by (as well as produced by and often written by) David Milch ("NYPD Blue"), "Deadwood" takes place in Deadwood, South Dakota (a real town) in the 1870's, which serves as a popular stop for prospectors searching for gold. The series follows the development of the town and the third season starts with what looks to be the end of the lawless era for the area, with the elections for sheriff and mayor coming up. However, with fortunes at stake, it's not long before violence errupts. Realizing that they have a mutual enemy in George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), former rivals - town boss Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and sheriff Seth Bullock - form an uneasy alliance to protect their mutual interests. Sol (John Hawkes) also puts his hat in the ring to run for Mayor, while newcomer Jack Langrishe (the great Brian Cox) - an old friend of Sweargen - attempts to open a theatre in the mining town, while Alma (Molly Parker) opens the town bank.
The series focuses on the way that the town evolves, but it also gives a great deal of attention to its characters, which are well written (the show's writing has gotten a lot of press for being incredibly profane, but there's a lot of depth and wit and detail underneath, as well as the fact that I'm sure the dialogue is pretty accurate to how these characters really spoke to one another) and powerfully portrayed by a superb ensemble cast. Ian McShane once again provides a fierce performance as town boss Swearengen, while Timothy Olyphant offers the best work of his career as sheriff Seth Bullock. McRainey (and I think everyone remembers "Major Dad") is also at his best in a powerhouse role as Hearst. Brad Dourif, Powers Boothe, Molly Parker, Robin Weigert, Kim Dickens and others offer great supporting efforts.
"Deadwood" has one of the same elements of appeal that many cable drams have these days: volaility. "Deadwood" isn't a slow-boil series - while there are brief moments to breathe, the series maintains a riveting, hair-trigger tension that seems as if it's often just about to boil over into rage. One also has to marvel at the show's sets and production design, which seem incredibly detailed, down to the dirt and dust that line the streets of the town. Costume design also appears spot-on and the film's gorgeous cinematography (sadly, series cinematographer James Glennon passed away earlier this year from complications due to prostate cancer) captures it all superbly.
12 episodes on six discs: Tell Your God to Ready for Blood, I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For, True Colors, Full Faith and Credit, A Two-Headed Beast, A Rich Find, Unauthorized Cinnamon, Leviathan Smiles, Amateur Night, A Constant Throb, The Catbird Seat, Tell Him Something Pretty.
VIDEO: HBO presents "Deadwood" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and certainly does the show's gorgeous visuals justice with this exceptional transfer. "Deadwood"'s production design is absolutely outstanding, and one can really appreciate every last detail within the show's sets with this crisp, clear presentation. Fine details, such as pores and hairs, are clearly visible in close-up. A few tiny instances of artifacting and edge enhancement were spotted, but the transfers of these episodes were otherwise absolutely spotless. Colors are a bit subdued, but that's by intent. Overall, a really beautiful presentation of a visually very rich series.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent, as it puts the surrounds to appropriate use for occasional sound effects, as well as some very nice ambience that draws the viewer into the daily life of the town of the title. Audio quality was excellent throughout the show, with crisp, clean dialogue (every F word comes through loud and clear), effects and score.
EXTRAS: We get commentary on four episodes by creator David Milch, executive producer Gregg Fienberg, writer Mark Tinker, and cast members Robin Weigert, W. Earl Browl, Jim Beaver, and Sean Bridges. "Tell Your God To Be Ready For Blood" offers commentary from Fienberg and Tinker, while "A Two-Headed Beast" offers commentary from Beaver, Bridgers and Brown, "Amateur Night" offers commentary from Weigert and "Tell Him Something Pretty" offers commentary from Milch.
The sixth and final disc offers the remainder of the extra features, starting with "Deadwood Matures", a 19-mintue featurette that looks at the development of the real-life Deadwood. We get information about some of the real-life versions of some of the characters seen in the movie, as well as some of the events of the time period, such as the first elections and the first school. While a little on the short side, this featurette was helpful in providing some insights on what life was really like in "Deadwood" at the time.
Deadwood, SD Now
"The Education of Swearinger and Bullock" is a 20-minute featurette that explores both the tension and conflict between these characters, as well as the respect that the two characters have for one another. The featurette goes over the storylines for the characters for this season and provides thoughts and insights on the situations from cast and crew. Finally, the last disc also provides a set of historical still images.
Final Thoughts: If this is truly the end of "Deadwood", the series certainly had a great - if too short - run. The series may not be for everyone, but fans will not soon forget the show's incredible ensemble cast, great writing and amazing intensity. Highly recommended.