We talk a lot about great shows that were prematurely cancelled – Sense8 anyone? – but one of the most tragic cancellations in my lifetime was slow-burn hit Deadwood.
This is how the real Wild West was – a violent bacchanal of sex, gunfights, fistfights and heavy drinking, its bloody, muddy streets populated by uncouth, desperate men and women seeking their fortune during the Dakota gold rush of 1876.
David Milch’s epic Western is regularly namechecked as one of the best TV shows ever, ranking 23 in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Greatest Shows Of All Time.
It is also regularly namechecked along with Firefly, Carnivale, Party Down, Arrested Development and Freaks And Geeks as a series cruelly cut short before its time, cancelled after its third season yet with rumours of a Deadwood revival movie refusing to die.
Like its superlative stablemate Rome, its prohibitive production cost contributed to its cancellation. However, the critics were and continue to be enthralled.
“After watching the pilot episode of Deadwood, I got up, lowered the blinds, dimmed the lights and burned through the rest of the DVD in a fugue of wonder and excitement,” wrote New York Times critic Allesandra Stanley.
“I didn’t leave the series until the next day, staggering limply into the harsh sunlight like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.”
Now here’s why YOU should love it, too.
What it’s about
When gold is discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota, thousands flock to the region to find their fortune. An illegal gold town springs up almost overnight … attracting gamblers, gunslingers, gold hunters, outlaws and businessmen. One man seeks to control it all – saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane).
Five reasons why you should watch Deadwood
- Ian McShane.
We recently saw him as “Mr Wednesday” in American Gods and as a pacifist priest in Game Of Thrones, but the Lovejoy star’s true tour de force was as saloon owner, whoremaster and unofficial frontier town kingpin Al in Deadwood.
He is the magnificent hub around which the marvel of Deadwood revolves.
- Al is based on a real-life person.
So is Sheriff Bullock, Will Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and more. Even Al’s place of business the Gem really existed.
The Bullock Hotel, built by Seth Bullock, stands to this day.
There’s authenticity dripping out of every conversation, every scene, every card game, every set in Deadwood.
- Deadwood itself.
Like Al, Bullock and Hickok, the town of Deadwood was real, shining brightly albeit briefly in Wild West history. The producers do a magnificent job of bringing Deadwood to life. It’s the unofficial star of the show.
- The language.
Deadwood could just be – scratch that, IS – the sweariest show on TV. If you had a dollar for every mention of a certain C-word you’d be a rich man. (Actually, you wouldn’t. But you would have about 273 dollars.)
The f-bomb is also dropped close to 3000 times.
Besides that, the dialogue is a magnificent combination of high Shakespeare and low saloon talk. Al’s profanity-laden conversations with Wu (“hang dai!”) are worth the price of admission alone.
Al’s monologues are also eminently quotable. Such as: “Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man … and give some back.”
- It was ahead of its time.
Boxset bingewatching? Shows like Deadwood and The Wire virtually invented it. The 2004 series helped herald the new Golden Age Of Television, started by 1999’s The Sopranos and including The Shield, Buffy The Vampire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and much more.