Tue 22 Jun
With the help of my new television, on Sunday I parked myself on the couch and watched the last two first-season episodes of HBO’s western drama series “Deadwood.” I’m a bigger fan of westerns now than I ever was, thanks in part to the wealth of symbolic artistry that great directors have woven into the genre and which escaped me somehow when I was a kid. So I’ve been watching “Deadwood” with curious interest. If I can liken it to anything I’ve seen before, it would be an incredibly profane version of Robert Altman’s venerable “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” which also explored the brutal, unpleasant and dirty living inside of a frontier town.
The rough language, which series creator David Milch (of “NYPD Blue”) insists is authentic, is probably the first thing most viewers will note about “Deadwood.” There’s a lot of cursing — and cussing — in this show, probably more than in any other show I’ve seen. It’s a pretty clear case of HBO-itis, in which a series’ writers apply a liberal amount of profanity to the script mostly just because the network allows it. (“Sex and the City,” a well-written show that I don’t miss one bit, is the archetypal example of this.)
To be honest, I wish there were fewer expletives on “Deadwood,” but not because I find the language offensive at all. Rather, I think the show would simply be better without all the cursing.
That’s because the show is complex and complicated and, should you be willing to put up with its intricacies, rewarding. Each episode suggests a kind of industrial age contraption, a spinning, hissing, screeching construction powered by primitive motivations. Characters practically seethe and spit their way through every hour, and the mess of grudges, animosity, lies and killing that unite them is an orchestrated marvel.
It’s not exactly clear to me why “Deadwood” has not been the beneficiary of least some of the same praise and notoriety that is regularly heaped on “The Sopranos.” At least in its first season, “Deadwood” has achieved a noteworthy consistency; none of the twelve episodes I’ve watched have been duds, which is something impossible to say about any season of “The Sopranos.” In a way, I kind of like its status as an underappreciated series, just as I kind of like the fact that the whole Western genre is currently out of favor. Sometimes it’s nice not to have interests that run outside of trends.