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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first episode of 'Deadwood'.
Most of it's purpose was to introduce the characters.
The episode begins with a man being executed by Sheriff Seth Bullock and his partner Sol Star before they depart to this new town called 'Deadwood', where there is no law.
Also new in town, a well-known man called Wild Bill Hickok. He immediately makes many friends and foes.
Bullock and Hickok get to know each other after being informed that there had been an entire family killed. Once they get there, Bullock finds the youngest member of the family to be still alive. The killer turned out to be the informer, and Seth and Bill gun him down.
Also in Deadwood, we meet Al Swearengen, who runs a gem saloon. He and his henchmen try to con this wealthy man called Brom Garret into buying a gold claim.
The Pilot episode works very well as the introduction of the series. The costume design and sets are realistic and the performances are memorable.
Although nothing truly stands out, it was a well-written and produced Pilot episode that introduced the show quite nicely.
A tour de force for Ian McShane, who brings to life one of the great characters of television ever conceived from his first appearance, setting the tone for the show itself. A true three dimensional figure of Al Swearengen, written and acted to brilliance. Lays most of its chips on set pieces and snippets that generally take place in saloons and hotels and make use of natural light and wonderful set making to give it a gritty and primal feel. Keith Carradine does a magnificent job of recreating Wild Bill Hickock thanks to a fantastically researched costume and research team that has truly created an artistic work of serious significance. Beyond the gritty vocabulary and dirty sets is a load of substance and historical accuracy that gives full range to the genre and goes beyond almost anything this side of Sergio Leone. Smart, witty, involving and complex. Takes a few viewings to really digest and pick up all the wonderful attention to detail, the brilliant background action (i.e. 19th century dentistry). A lot of foreshadowing and use of close-ups to insinuate meanings and imply past tensions between characters. Very well written and smartly cast and executed.
David Milch, with Walter Hill as director, take on the old West in such
a way that is surprising. There have been R rated westerns to be sure
(one of them won best picture, Unforgiven), but this is for HBO, and
the writing is fresh and profane as one might expect today at some bar
in a seedy part of town. Is it how it was in the old west in actuality?
How the f*** knows? This is Milch's west, and it's cool to see Hill
direct the pilot as he previously made a film with Wild Bill as the
hero (previously with Jeff Bridges). While that had its flair and
strong dialog, here Keith Carradine takes on the iconic role, and it's
fitting that he appears like the one with the 'biggest' look - the
mustache, the long hair, the hat - and he fills him with stoic vigor
and the kind of screen presence that threatens to wipe others off the
screen. It's a different take for Hill, but then that's what Milch's
material is all about: taking the west and even going another step than
Cimino with Heaven's Gate, showing how filthy and rotten and just muddy
things could get.
This is an ensemble though, so while one might expect Bill Hickock to be the star, he's only a part of what goes on in this 'town' of Deadwood: there's the guy nicknamed 'Montana' who used to be a lawman (the show opens with him having to decide what to do with a criminal in front of a posse) and his partner (Timothy Olyphant and John Hawks respectively) who want to open up a hardware shop; Jane, who we don't really know until another episode or so if she is a she (she first comes off so boyish it's androgynous); the town Doctor (Brad Dourif, my favorite actor of the bunch) clinging to doing right much as he can; and Mr. Al Swearengen, who runs the local saloon/gambling joint/whore-house, and gets Ian McShane as the actor. And boy how does he!
In a lot of ways Deadwood is set up in the pilot like a Western- noir, or really about the low-down criminal activities and Machiavellian power-plays that Al is up to, and while crimes do get committed - a big one, involving a slaughter of a foreign family traveling eastbound, will be driving the rest of the narrative for the season - and it's this that makes the show so compelling. It's not just about having men pull their guns to settle things; it's about money, about how much a place costs or what kind of deal you can get on a gold claim and the pitfalls with that; how, if you want to stay ahead of the game, you got to watch what goes on in town from on high (as Al seems to do whenever he can). There's a constant tension that things can go down/bad quickly in this place, and it comes from the mood of the characters and the dirt and muck of the setting. It may not be THE west as it really was, but there's an authenticity that's seen and felt to dress, look of the faces, the primitive qualities of a place that is technically off the 'grid' as far as a territory goes in 1876.
It's tempting to also draw a correlation as this being an HBO show from this period with The Sopranos; it's hard to see this show existing without the success of that, allowing for hardcore crime shows such as this (it is really a crime show, perhaps, in the guise of a Western, or the other way around). And Al is the key thing - he's the Boss and brings fear and respect to those around him (sometimes both), and yet has a charismatic air that makes him how he is: how can he run roughshod over these women under him, or that they stay under his rule after he, say, beats one and strangles one (Trixie) into submission? Why do people defy him if they know he can squash them like a bug? The stakes get set in a way without direct contact between Al and Bill and Seth Bullock meeting (though Bill and Bullock do go out to the scene of the massacre/gun-fight it in the last part). We know this guy is the villain, but the power of him, and in McShane's performance, is that we understand him, everything he's after - money, power, control, keeping things in their place without things going TOO off the rails - and has a little more brain than most.
Also, the bark is as bad as his bite, or worse. One last thing to comment on is the language, how much profanity is used (especially a certain C-sucker line that is thrown about almost as much as the F- word). Why so much of this? Is there a poetry to all of this? I think so, otherwise it would be gratuitous. In a way I was torn in this regard (more-so in the subsequent episodes of season 1 than in the pilot); is the cursing a substitute for action? These characters are more than capable - they do - in kicking a** and taking names and so on. And yet these people do have individual voices, and I never got the sense that Milch had everyone talking exactly the same, which is an important distinction.
So, Deadwood gets off to a bloody, filthy start, with only little bits of humor (gallows type, no pun intended). If you think that sounds like your kind of thing, dig in. If not... give it a chance anyway, and the performances may win you over.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*Spoiler/plot- Deadwood, 2004. Follows the intrigue and biographys of
the colonization of the frontier town called 'Deadwood' on the Indian
treaty territorial area of the 'Black Hills' Dakota. Gold was
discovered in 1876 just after the US centennial and General Custer
*Special Stars- Timothy Olyphant, Ian Mcshane, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, W. Earl Brown, John Hawkes. Paula Malcomson, Daton Callie, William Sanderson, Robin Weigart, Jim Beaver, Jeffrey Jones.
*Theme- People will do almost anything for wealth and security.
*Trivia/location/goofs- HBO TV mini series. Most of the characters (Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Reverend Smith, the Metz family, et. al., in addition to the more famous Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Jack McCall, ) have real-life counterparts. The word "fuck" and its derivatives are used 2,980 times throughout the series. The series takes place from 1876 to 1877. George Hearst was the father of William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaperman on whom Citizen Kane (Citizen Kane (1941)) was based, and the great-grandfather of Patricia Hearst. When Hearst tells Merrick that he will start his own newspaper in Deadwood to tell lies for his side, it is a reference to the fact that W. R. Hearst is largely credited with the creation of the concept of "yellow journalism" and the use of his own newspapers to shape and even create political and social opinion and actual events. The most famous example of this was what many historians characterize as W. R. Hearst's whole cloth creation of the Spanish-American War through his newspapers' inflammatory and lucrative headlines. Goofs: Episode 1: A portion of blacktop highway and guard railing is visible behind Hickock's wagon as it descends the hill into Deadwood. At one point, Starr tells Bullock: "Your fly is down". In 1876, trousers had buttons, not zippers. Bullock's fly would have been "open" or "closed", not "up" or "down".
*Emotion- Maybe the crudest 'slice of life' TV series broadcast in many years. Between the crude situations, language, and social actions, this show made it's mark on TV with it's historic sets, costuming, dialogue, and depictions.
*Based On- Many biographys and history of the townspeople of 'Deadwood' town in 1870's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The pilot episode of "Deadwood" is a decent and brutal taste of what's
inevitably to come in this series about a lawless frontier town in
South Dakota in the 1870's. Running an hour long, this episode
infamously contains about 51 uses of the word "f***" and other uses of
graphic language, which I was very surprised to hear for I didn't think
people were as vulgar back then as they are today. However, the shows
creator David Milch stated that the people back then used other forms
of bad language excessively, such as 'god damn it', and he reckoned
that if that was heard today over and over again people would just
laugh. He just wanted to use modern day vulgarities in order to have
the effect on the audience that the mild swearing back then would have
on society. This is very clever in my opinion. "Deadwood" begins as
Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) leaves his job as Marshall in Montana
after carrying out his last act of justice - hanging a horse thief and
snapping his neck outside the jailhouse. He and his partner Sol Star
relocate to a lawless gold-mining camp called Deadwood to open up their
own hardware business. The notorious gunslinger Wild Bill Hickock and
his partners Charlie Utter and Calamity Jane are also heading for the
town. Bullock soon clashes with Al Swearengen - manager of the local
saloon and brothel - who 'owns Deadwood'. Swearengen is attempting to
deceive wealthy business man Brom Garrett from New York City into
purchasing a gold claim, but he must first deal with a rowdy, drunken
Irish man offering a better deal to the New York boy. When a messenger
rides into town informing the town that Indians have massacred a
family, Bullock and Hickock, along with others, ride out to
investigate, only to discover that the messenger is indeed the culprit.
An hour long episode but it did drag a little bit. As you can see from the plot summary not much really happens, bar a few killings and a lot of drinking. The sets are superb and the acting is top notch, however, I was angered by the Irish character and the imbecile that played him - that was probably the worst Irish accent I've ever heard anyone try to attempt. Was he trying to be funny? Surely he couldn't have been serious. I've been everywhere in Ireland and hail from there and I've never come across anyone who sounded even remotely like him. It just annoys me when these Yanks seem to think we all talk like we are brain damaged and singing. Apart from that, it was a decent pilot and made me want to watch a few more episodes.
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