What You Should Be Watching On TV: Deadwood

By: Matthew Romanada

The western was once the most popular genre of television show. HBO’s Deadwood has revived and revamped that tradition. Like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos this show would only work on HBO. What makes Deadwood so great is that it pulls no punches. A network would not allow the sex, violence and language portrayed in Deadwood. Without these the realistic nature of Deadwood would be non-existent. The reason why Deadwood is such a great show is that it IS real.

The Premise

The show is set in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876 shortly after the Custer massacre. There is a gold rush in the Deadwood area which is drawing fortune-seekers from all over the continent. Deadwood is smack dab in the middle of Native territory. This means there are no laws and that the U.S. government has no jurisdiction over the town.

The show is based around real events and real characters.

For someone that reads a great deal of non-fiction and loves history I know that some of the best stories ever told are ones that really happened. While Deadwood is not a perfect recreation of what things were really like back in 1876 they feel real and that is what is important.

The Characters

Most of the main characters are based on people that really lived in Deadwood. The show centers around Seth Bullock played by Timothy Olyphant (The Girl Next Door, Dreamcatcher). Bullock has moved to Deadwood with his friend Sol Star, played by John Hawkes (Identity, The Perfect Storm) to start a hardware business. Bullock is a former sheriff from Montana who originally hails from Etobicoke, Ontario (the real Bullock is from Sandwich, Ontario but hey at least they kept him Canadian). He was raised by a tough British soldier father and that strict upbringing plays directly into the man Bullock is now. He is torn between his desire to uphold what is right and wrong with trying to start a life and a successful business so that he can bring his wife and children to Deadwood. At the end of the first season Bullock reluctantly takes the job as sheriff of Deadwood, mostly due to the corruption and incompetence of everyone else in the town. He also falls in loved with the beautiful, and recently widowed, Alma Garrett, played by Molly Parker (Max, Men with Brooms). This is when the audience finds out that his wife is in fact his brother’s widow and he married her out of obligation to support her and his brother’s children not out of love. The second season will no doubt deal with how Bullock will deal with his new job as Sheriff and his new found love with Garrett.

Perhaps the most fascinating person in the show is Al Swearengen portrayed magnificently by Ian McShane (Agent Cody Banks, Sexy Beast) who was honoured with a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Swearengen. Swearengen is the owner of The Gem bar/brothel/gambling establishment. He basically rules the town with the same flair and attitude Tony Soprano controls his crew. Swearengen is always a step ahead of everyone and is super paranoid about losing control of his little fiefdom. Later in the first season we learn the another reason he is so paranoid is that he has an outstanding warrant for murder in Chicago. He does not want the U.S. government to take control over Deadwood for fear of losing his profits and also being imprisoned. In many ways he is a most distasteful man whom we should hate but McShane has brought such depth to this character he is perhaps one of the best villains ever portrayed on screen.

These two main characters pretty much dominate the show but what makes the show go great is its supporting cast. Sol Star is a Jewish businessman who is partners with Bullock in their hardware business. Star is the man who tries to control Bullock’s temper and keep him focuses on business. Due to the fact he is a small man and a Jew, Star often faces aggressive people who want to push him around. Star uses his business sense to get him out of most situations. Surprisingly he has fallen for Trixie, portrayed by Paula Malcolmson, who happens to be a whore at the Gem Saloon and Swearengen’s favourite girl.

Alma Garrett is totally out of place in Deadwood. Raised to live a life of luxury and wealth she is lost when her husband is killed by Swearengen’s goons. Lucky for her a massive bonanza of gold has been found on her claim and she has the protection of Bullock. Ellsworth, portrayed by Jim Beaver (Adaptation, The Life of David Gale), is Alma Garrett’s right-hand man. Dan Dority played by W. Earl Brown (The Alamo) is Sweargen’s goon. He does all the dirty work for his boss, which generally means killing and disposing of bodies. Doc Cochran, portrayed by Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is the town’s doctor. Cochran still has nightmares from his service in the Civil War. Dourif should have been recognized, and hopefully eventually will be, for his portrayal of Cochran.

There are so many other characters I am leaving out. There is such a depth to this show that it cannot be explained in words alone.

Why You Should Watch It?

Well if I havn’t convinced you yet than I am not sure what else to tell you. If you say you hate Westerns and ignore this show based solely on that than you are missing out big time. Deadwood is up there with Six Feet Under and The Sopranos as the great shows HBO has given us. Deadwood far surpasses the genre of Western. Even if you hate history and Westerns you will love this who. The acting and writing are fantastic. This is the perfect time to get into the show. The second season starts March 6. HBO and TMN are showing reruns of all the first season now for those that missed them.

Go check out HBO’s Website and click on Season 2 trailer and tell me you are not already addicted to the show.

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