Saturday, March 29, 2014

Deadwood: One Helluva Dramatic Series

All I can say after finishing up the series "Deadwood" is "WOW!". I didn't expect to enjoy it and be as engrossed in the story and characters as I was. It's sort of a western, but it isn't your typical "cowboy" movie or program that most of us are used to seeing. It is a true dramatic series with layers of black humor and metaphor. HBO has always delivered great television and this program was no exception.

I see the United States and how it came to be as the real story of "Deadwood". Deadwood was a mining town on Indian territory that basically cropped up without law. It didn't have to have law, because it was an illegal settlement due to it breaking a treaty between the US government and the Sioux native Americans. The government didn't break the treaty, but miners and those from the east looking to strike it rich did. As a lawless new town being founded by people looking for wealth and to start new lives, I see it as representing the founding of the United States. The native Americans were drove back and demonized at every turn as that was what was best for the town and the only way to maintain distrust enough to ensure that people would be unified in believing they had a right to this land and the riches, because the Sioux were savages (at least that was the narrative that helped keep the camp united). 

The people that founded the settlement didn't want law, but as the population continued to grow, it was inevitable that there would have to be some organization and rules that would be expected to be followed. Our nation underwent the same thing. As we (the United States) grew, there was a need to develop a way of life that would protect the interest of the people and give order to everyday life. 

The two main characters, Swearengen and Bullock, both want to enjoy the benefits of being business owners in a lawless territory where wealth or the potential for wealth was abound. They were at odds often times and there was almost a father/son aspect that grew out of their stormy relationship. They and the town were challenged by Hearst, a wealthy and ruthless business man who came to Deadwood to buy up all the gold claims and exploit the labor and the town itself for all he could get. The lack of law allowed him to manipulate different aspects of the town and to pit greed and opportunism against the common good. This brought Swearengen and Bullock together and eventually led the town to bring order through a sort of psuedo-government. The Hearst character represented ruthless greed. The "corporate" interest in Hearst character wasn't good for the town and if it were to survive, then the common man and business owner were going to have to unite so they could continue to carve their place out in this place they wanted to be their home. These things along with other story lines revealed that the story of "Deadwood" is about the town itself and how it developed, just like our nation did. 

There is so much more to write about the subplots, but if you have read this far, you have likely already watched it or you are contemplating it, and I don't want to ruin any of it for anyone. 

I've watched a lot of good drama series, but as a whole, this ranks right up near the top of the list. "The Sopranos" is the best series I have ever watched, with "Lost", "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" right up there and I have to say that "Deadwood" is certainly in that group and if not for it ending without a true conclusion, I'd say it would best those programs. The story never takes on more than it can deliver for you to understand. But don't think that means there isn't depth and subtlety. There is plenty and most of it revolves around how individual relationships have an effect on the development of the town. The acting is simply superb. The characters are fleshed out as not "old west" characters, but as real human beings with flaws and hidden virtue that are usually revealed with a deft touch, so as not to allow a black and white view of who that person is. 

"The Sopranos" seemed to be about how organization and living by a code effected individuals and their behavior, and "Deadwood" is probably the opposite. It's the story of how individual behavior fostered the need for organization and law. 

There is so much more I could write on this in regards to the actors and the characters, but if you are at all interested in this program, that's left for you to enjoy! Check out this list of actors and you just have to know that you are getting some authentic depictions of many characters that really existed and some composites. The leads are played by Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant (who does a spot on Clint Eastwood without reducing it to strict imitation), but Powers Boothe is a strong presence and Brad Dourif is brilliant as the town's doctor. Other highly regarded actors that brought their skills to the show are Garrett Dillahunt, Brian Cox, Jeffrey Jones,  Keith Carradine, Titus Welliver, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, William Sanderson, and W. Earl Brown. Most of the main characters were real people that were in Deadwood and many of the story lines are based on actual events. 

If you like dramatic, authentic television and are a fan of seeing great acting, then give this show a whirl! I don't think you'll be disappointed. Yes, it's only three seasons, but it was well worth my time and left me wanting more.

This is a really cool "trailer" using "God's Gonna Cut You Down". 

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