You say the western as a genre sucks, right? I agree. Most westerns suck because the people behind them don't understand what makes the genre work. Westerns, at their core, are Greek tragedies American-style.
Deadwood is a show that understands this!
David Milch, the producer of NYPD Blue, brings his unique brand of take no prisoners storytelling to 1880's North Dakota, and damn if it isn't explosive!
Deadwood is the story of a small town caught up in the Gold Rush. The show is set against real events and most of the cast are based on real-life historical figures like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane.
This is a world of the frontier. Although the US is expanding most of the western territories are not yet incorporated into the United States. Anything goes out there. The only law is the law of the jungle. The show's ALL about money, power, sex and the things people do to get them. This ain't no Lonesome Dove!
The cast is lead by Timothy Olyphant, who manages not to suck as real-life lawman Seth Bullock, who wanders into Deadwood with his best friend, Sol Star. They set up a shop and try to survive the cutthroats and claim jumpers that typify the era.
But it's Ian McShane as Al Swearengen who steals the show! He is beyond mesmerizing as the ruthless owner of the Gem Saloon, constantly scheming against any and everyone. McShane's portrayal is a triumph and the main reason the show was so highly-regarded.
There's something else that needs to be said about Deadwood that made it so revolutionary. There have been a lot of shows about the old west, and when they find their audience they're a gold mine for the networks because there's a large and passionate fanbase for the genre. But doing mature stories about it were impossible because the studios are held hostage to the immaturity and delusional fantasies of that same fanbase. These people have a romanticized view of the old west. They imagine Manifest Destiny as harmless, with the US as the world's largest national park and the settlers as glorified campers trekking cross-country. In other words they demand to see the settlers shown essentially as 19th century versions of themselves --suburbanites. These viewers simply won't watch a show where the settlers are portrayed as anything other than immaculately decent people unjustifiably attacked by vicious "injuns." God-fearing folks who were the epitome of "traditional values," where chivalrous men NEVER mistreated the ladies, and women knew better than to demand their rights and the newly emancipated blacks are missing altogether, because slavery is an unpleasant thing to be reminded of. They demand a show that caters to them by validating and justifying the bloodshed and ruthlessness that won the west and the institutional inequalities that were America.
Well, that ain't Deadwood and thank God!
For the first time a show has the balls to show the settlers as they really were --ruthless cutthroats fighting for an undeserved slice of the frontier. It's a refreshing and bold take on the west that deserved every accolade it got.
It only lasted for three season, HBO loved the rave reviews, but didn't care for the budget and wanted fewer episodes per season. Milch walked away and HBO pulled the plug. Frankly, as honest as it was, I'm shocked it lasted as long as it did.
The first thing newcomers to the series comment on is the language. The people on this show cuss...a lot...a WHOLE lot! They use profanity like it's part of their vocabulary. For most folks this will be a test of whether you're ready for a world like this. "The storytelling is awesome," everybody says, "but I just couldn't take all the cursing!" Deadwood is not for everyone. The show isn't about romanticizing the west, it's about showing it the way it was.
But for those who are mature enough to accept Milch's uncompromising portrayal of the old west you'll soon find the best damned western EVER put to TV.