About "Deadwood," the HBO series

The thing about Deadwood, the town, was that it was Dakota Territory and outside the legal jurisdiction of the United States -- gold and anarchy -- and more or less everyone there was there for the gold, of course, but more often because there were arrest warrants awaiting them back in the states, big ones for murder and such.

There's a good article in, orienting toward Democrats and Republicans and their role-model relationships to South Park and Deadwood:

"Let conservatives co-opt 'South Park and 'The Incredibles.' It's time for liberals to get in touch with the free-range, foul-mouthed, gunslinging antiheroes of 'Deadwood.'"

...Eleven years after the Gingrich revolution there is evidence galore that the two armies in the culture wars have simply switched sides after swapping the reins of power. The Republicans are now the party of big government and optimistic Wilsonian adventures abroad, while the Democrats flirt anew with federalism, fiscal sobriety and sour isolationism. Within this realignment, and the religious right's continued overreach in the Terri Schiavo case and others to follow, lies a golden Democratic opportunity for cultural re-branding. Yes, cocksuckers, it's time for liberals to get in touch with their inner "Deadwood." It's good politics, better philosophy and (most important of all?) damned fun..."

It's a fine article, just doesn't happen to mention the influence Pete Dexter's thoroughly-researched and mostly historically accurate novel Deadwood had on the show.

But an idea is not responsible for its followers, and in this case, you should know that Dexter doesn't find the fecund abundance of the word "cocksucker" used in the TV series to be either useful or true to the time:

"It seems to me it's condescending to the viewer to think that throwing those kinds of words often makes a style point."

And from another writer familiar with that period:

"Men might say 'damn' ... or call each other 'bastard' or 'son of a bitch,' " but not the more modern cussing heard on Deadwood, says Frederick Bozeman, who has researched gold rush life in Montana and is working on a book due out in the fall."

I have never found the use of that particular word to ring true, either, and the sheer excess of it was difficult to accomodate, even though, in a place such as Deadwood, with minimal hygeine, it would indicate an individual with certain lack of standards.

And the novel has the repeated rape of of young lad in a covered wagon early on in the book that just might include such business. Still, by the end of the first show, with early 20th blues songs playing over the closing credits, the point is not whether or not it's accurate, but that there is literary license going on.

Well, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Nonetheless..."

The scripting and acting and directing of Deadwood is extraordinary with multi-level oblique conspiracy ongoing with more or less everyone. Most people have noticed -- of course -- the amazing stellar performance of Ian McShane as Al Swearengen. But EVERY actor in the ensemble series is revealed, sooner or later, to be doing something above and beyond what might be expected or even hoped-for, with complex unstated undercurrents enriching each one, whether it's the perennially-underrated Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran or William Sanderson in an insanely grotesque portrayal of the devious, semi-literate and sensitive E.B.Farnum, or the truly amazing Robin Wiegert as Calamity Jane.

The characters are generally debased, brutalized, opportunistic, and murderous, but, other than perhaps Powers Boothe's presenting a brilliant Face of Evil as Cy Tolliver, sooner or later we find that every one of them has some standards, some principles, complexity, even something one might call a personal morality.

You can continue all the way down the cast list and see what might be "personal-best" performances from damn near evereyone -- Jeffrey Jones as A.W. Merrick, Paula Malcomson as Trixie, Molly Parker as Alma Garrett, W. Earl Brown as Dan Dority, Geri Jewell as Jewell, Keone Young as Mr. Wu, Sarah Paulson as the monstrous Pinkerton agent Miss Isringhausen, Dayton Callie as Charlie Utter, Kim Dickens as Joanie Stubbs, Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock, John Hawkes as Sol Star, Powers Boothe as Cy Tolliver, and the unnamed actor portraying a character gradually emerging as a viewer-favorite, Richardson, factotum to E.B. Farnum (Sanderson) -- and what is the matter with those cocksuckers that run the HBO Deadwood site? They don't think he's important enough to list?

Have I missed anyone? Of course I have: Leon Rippy as Tom Nuttal, Garret Dillahunt as an advance man for Hearst who somehow manages to play the character as simultaneously soulless and tortured.

This series makes the Sopranos look sort of like Laverne and Shirley. But then, the law of the dojo is this: "The student owes it to the teacher to surpass him."


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