When thinking of the Old West, a certain scene comes to mind: a heroic sheriff standing up to a mob and restoring law and order to the town. However, those conventions are shattered in “Deadwood.” Historical figures such as Calamity Jane are here, but this is far from any romanticized, Disney rehashing.
“Deadwood” uses history books as a springboard, centering on the last bastion of the American frontier. Leaving his post as a lawman in Montana, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, “Go”) and his business partner Sol Star (John Hawkes, “Taken”) start anew in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. They find the gulch already awash with others seeking a fresh start in the hopes of striking it rich as gold prospectors.
The town is overrun by a wide-range of characters, including ruthless saloon owner Al Swearengen, played by Ian McShane in a Golden Globe-winning role. Also among the residents are rich, drug-addicted widow Alma Garret (Molly Parker, “Iron Jawed Angels”) and Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine, “2 Days in the Valley”). The most famous of Wild West legends, Hickock is now a boozing, gambling, washed-up sheriff, a shell of his former self.
“Deadwood” challenges the expectations of the Hollywood Western by avoiding the portrayal of the Old West clearly delineated between good and bad. “Deadwood” represents a realistic portrayal of desperate characters who are more self-serving than upstanding. Their language is profane and their actions are ruthless. The dialogue is also reflective of the period, but character quirks sometimes render it inaudible.
The first season DVD includes all 12 episodes in their vulgar, graphic glory. The illegal town, built on Sioux land, grows from a group of tents with “no law at all” to a thriving settlement organizing to a government as the season progresses.
The show’s presentation adds to its realism. The vastness of the frontier is presented in widescreen format, richly depicting the lush wagon trails which contrasts the monochromatic dustiness of the town. The sound, represented in multiple language tracks, is just as good.
The DVD set contains a separate disc devoted to extras featuring the cast and crew who comment on the production and historians who shed light upon the town and characters’ histories. The most interesting and in-depth of these are two lengthy interviews with series creator David Milch and actor Keith Carradine, who discuss the show’s genesis and its degree of realism. Audio commentaries with Milch and various cast members also allow for even more elaboration.
While extras are lacking in quantity, the included material is filled with information that adds to the “Deadwood” experience. Instead of a rehashed, idyllic West, the episodes give a realistic, gritty portrayal of a bygone American era.
Show: 4 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 4 out of 5 stars
Features: 3 out of 5 stars