HBO // 2004 // 2160 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 8th, 2008
Welcome to Deadwood...a hell of a place to make your fortune.
Fortune comes with a price.
Some fortunes are better left unclaimed.
I just flew in from the windy city,
The windy city is mighty purty,
But they ain't got what we got,
I'm telling you boys,
We got more life in Deadwood City than in the whole of Illanoy!
- Calamity Jane on a particularly musical occasion in 1953
"Maybe I will have a f -- -ing drink, for sociability's sake and
cause I'm a f -- -ing drunk."
- Calamity Jane on a f -- -ing bad day in the early 21st Century
Yeah, you've heard what they say. It's a hell of a place to make your fortune. It's certainly a hell of a place. Well, it's hell, anyway. It's Deadwood, motherf -- ing, c -- -sucking Deadwood. The place is more or less overseen by a real mean bastard of a fella, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane, Sexy Beast). Don't expect me to say some such nonsense along the lines of, "Al would just as soon cut your throat as look at you," 'cuz it ain't true. Nonetheless, you best be tending to your own business if Al's around. Don't ever come into his joint...The Gem, that's what it's called...anywho, don't ever go in there without buying a drink or partaking of a little tail, and you sure as hell better not come to the point of owing him anything. Keeping all that in mind, Al's okay. He ain't fair, but he's Al, and that's something.
Hey there, what're ya getting all skittish about? It ain't like Deadwood ain't got no damn rules. Sure we ain't got many things in print, but the usual codes of decency or lack thereof apply. We even got us a sheriff now. Tight-assed fella goes by the name of Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard). As I hinted previously, he's got a stick up where the sun don't shine, but he more or less keeps something resembling peace around these parts. Does his best, anyway. I hear tell that he's been taking a little look-see at the wealthy city woman (Molly Parker, Hollywoodland) in town, despite the fact that he's got a wife (Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad) and kid somewhere out there on the f -- -ing horizon. Bullock also runs a local hardware store with a partner, friendly Jewish fella named Sol Star (John Hawkes, Miami Vice).
Anyway, there's somebody for everybody around here. We got us a damn decent doctor (Brad Dourif, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) who services the whole town, and a few damn decent whores who, uh, service the whole town. Best of 'em, most fiery anyway, that'd probably be Trixie (Paula Malcomson, John From Cincinnati). She works for Swearengen over at The Gem, but I hear she's got a thing for Sol. Oh, while I'm on the subject of whoring and fornicating, there's another joint in town run by a c -- -sucker named Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe, Red Dawn). Cy's just a plain mean son of a bitch, simple as that. That's all I got to say about him, thank ya. We got some genu-whine celebrities in town, too. None other than Will Bill f -- -ing Hickok (Keith Carradine, Nashville) is in town, and he brought Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert, Synecdoche, New York) with him! Getting pretty exciting, if you ask me. Plus, you've got to meet E.B., Charlie, Ellsworth, Silas, Mr. Wu, and...aw, hell, look at the time. I reckon you've heard enough for now. Besides, you ain't gonna meet any of them people anyway. Al's the one sent me here. Ain't no use protesting and whimpering. I feel for ya, but you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In general, I find excessive swearing a bit tiresome. I mean, I know some people think foul-mouthed flicks like Suicide Kings or The Boondock Saints are graced with incredibly inventive screenplays, but I don't know...one can only throw out so many variations on the f-word before they start sounding a bit lazy. If you're going to make a film in which everyone swears all the time, you had better know how to swear. For me, the master of foul language has always been David Mamet, and for me, his masterpiece has always been Glengarry Glen Ross. I never thought that any production would ever match the eloquent profanity of Mamet's tale of hungry, desperate salesmen. Then along came a fellow named David Milch and an HBO television show called Deadwood. The show quickly became notorious for being the most foul-mouthed show ever to air on television. It could be argued that it also has a stronger grasp of how to use profanity creatively than any other show that has ever aired on television (according to IMDb, the f-word was used nearly 3,000 times over the course of 36 episodes). Why the focus on the naughty words? It can't be avoided. If you haven't seen Deadwood, believe me, the first thing that will catch your attention is the endless stream of f -- -s, motherf -- -- rs, and c -- -suckers...oh, especially those c -- -suckers.
The second thing that you will notice is that Deadwood is a gosh-darn fine show. Rarely has a television program been graced with such an abundance of complex characters, superb writing, and top-drawer production work. Myself and other fans were upset when the show was canceled after only three seasons, but in retrospect, I'm grateful that we managed to get three full seasons and a halfway satisfactory conclusion. It's obvious that these shows (shot on-location) were quite expensive to produce, and I have no idea how they managed to keep providing regular paychecks for such a large, talented cast and oodles of extras. Though Deadwood is hardly epic in scale, there are no obvious signs of cost-cutting measures to be found. This is a show that went all-out from start to finish.
What a remarkable cast Deadwood has. The standout, far and away, is Ian McShane as the notorious Al Swearengen. Al is a fascinating, frightening, funny individual who automatically grabs the viewer's attention whenever he is onscreen. Initially, he appears to be the primary villain of the show, but that's not really the case. Al is too complex to be classified as a mere "villain." He's better described as a businessman with a bad temper who is willing to do evil things if he needs to. However, he doesn't enjoy evil for the sake of evil. No, that's the department of Cy Tolliver, played by a growling Powers Boothe. Tolliver is a villain in the truest sense, in that he always does the villainous thing whether or not it will actually benefit him. Hey, at least the guy is consistent. Booth has a lot of fun in the part, and is by turns both scary and pathetic. Oh, but there are so many other great actors here...Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood) as the newspaperman, Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran, William Sanderson (Blade Runner) as the delightful E.B. Farnum, Paula Malcomson as Trixie, and so many others. In addition, there are terrific extended guest turns from Brian Cox (Adaptation), Keith Carradine, and Gerald McRaney. There are a couple dozen actors who deserve to be singled out and praised at length, but let's just leave at this: Deadwood has a great cast.
Some of you may want me to stop speaking in generalities and speak about the specific strenghs and weaknesses of the show over the course of the three seasons. I'm hesitant to get too specific, just because it's very difficult to discuss anything beyond the first few episodes without getting into spoiler territory. If you haven't seen the show, believe me, you don't want it spoiled for you. I'll just tell you that all three seasons maintain a consistently high level of quality. If you have seen the show, you know what happens and you are here to find out whether or not this 19-disc box set of Deadwood: The Complete Series is worth picking up. If you don't own the show, the answer is easy. Yes, go buy this box set. At just over $100 bucks on Amazon, it's a very good deal, much cheaper than buying the individual seasons. If you do own all three seasons on DVD, well, it's a little trickier.
The first 18 discs in this 19-disc set contain no new material. The transfers appear just as solid as those that appeared on the three season box sets, and I didn't notice any significant difference in the audio department. The same featurettes and audio commentaries are all included, and are discussed in more depth in the three individual season reviews on this very website. The packaging is very attractive and sturdy, with glossy cardboard sleeves featuring full-color photos of the cast containing the discs. The box is approximately the same size as one of the single seasons, so it really saves on shelf space, too. Ah, but what about that 19th disc? What treasures does it hold? Honestly, I kind of wish that I could tell you that the disc was full of lame EPK-style featurettes, and that you didn't need to worry about missing out on it. However, um...that's really not the case. In fact, if you're a serious Deadwood fan, the content on this disc is nearly must-see material. If you don't want to actually upgrade to the complete series box set, at least rent it from your local movie borrowing facility.
So what exactly is on this disc that makes it so special? The most notable supplement is a 22-minute featurette called "The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood." It begins as an explanation of where a fourth season would have gone. Milch gives us a nice taste of what would have been going on with Swearengen, Bullock, Alma, and other characters. However, the featurette quickly takes a left turn and becomes something far more fascinating and poetic. Milch seems dejected, and shuffles through the empty Deadwood set as he begins to reveal his deep sadness and frustration with the show. I found it to be one of the most revealing and moving behind-the-scenes featurettes I've seen, and there's a genuine honesty that is rarely permitted in this sort of thing. Nothing else is that good, but there are some more worthwhile special features. We get an hour-long conversation with the cast and crew from 2005 (it's best to watch it just after episode 2.3, which was screened before the chat), and there's a 30-minute featurette on the real, historical Deadwood. A 7-minute "Deadwood 360 Tour" is a brief look at the set. Finally, we conclude with the immensely entertaining "Al Swearengen Audition Reel," in which cast member Titus Welliver gives us a look at what it might have been like if Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, and Robert De Niro had tried out for the role. Move over, Rich Little. Welliver nails every one of these guys, and he also does a spot-on David Milch. A very funny concluding note that will undoubtedly lift the spirits of bitter Deadwood fans.
It's been said before, and I don't want to beat up too badly on the guy, but there is one significant weak point in the cast. That would be Timothy Olyphant in the role of Seth Bullock. Now don't get me wrong, Olyphant isn't horrible. He is adequate. But "adequate" doesn't amount to much when it comes to this show. Olyphant plays his role in a surprisingly one-dimensional manner. He has one note to play over and over and over again, and that note is, "seething with righteous indignation." It works during the big showdown scenes, but Olyphant just seems woefully inadequate during numerous key moments. During the hour-long chat included on the final disc, Olyphant reveals that he puts the least amount of effort into preparing for his role. Some of his cast members seem slightly annoyed by this, and it's easy to see why. Bullock is a potentially rich character that doesn't live up to his potential.
Also, why do I get the feeling that a Blu-ray release is just around the corner? It would have been ideal if HBO could have released this DVD set and a Blu-ray set at the same time, but obviously that would pull in less money. They're planning to take advantage of the impatient consumers out there. Within the past couple of months, HBO has released lavish DVD box sets of Deadwood, The Sopranos, and The Wire, three amazing shows that absolutely deserve to be seen in hi-def. I guarantee you that Blu-ray releases are coming in just a year or two. Wait and see. I'm a little annoyed by this. The set is still very worthwhile for those only interested in DVDs, but Deadwood fans with Blu-ray players will probably be justifiably irritated.
"C -- -sucker!"
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 2160 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* David Milch Epilogue
* Q&A Session
* Al Swearengen Audition Reel