HBO’s Deadwood is the 5th best TV show of all time in my opinion. When it debuted I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Deadwood came on after the Sopranos and was so different that it was hard to know what to think. The language was shocking and I’m someone who uses the F word liberally. Some of the characters really annoyed me like Swearengen. I never would have suspected that a few episodes in I would think that Al Swearengen was on the best characters on television!
David Milch, of NYPD Blue fame, created Deadwood. Partly based on actual history and partly fiction. Real life historical figures like “Wild” Bill Hickok were featured. Other characters were loosely based on real life people like Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock or Calamity Jane. As I said above, the language is pretty bad although I have read that Milch did a lot of research and based the language on how people would have actually talked in a frontier camp like this.
Set in Deadwood, South Dakota before it was a U.S. state. Deadwood is a camp that is growing due to the gold rush. Al Swearengen was one of the first at the camp and operated the Gem Saloon which is also a brothel. In the first episode two former lawmen come to camp. Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant) and his partner Sol Star arrive from Montana. They intend to set up a hardware store to sell wares to the various prospectors. Bullock wants to put his life as a marshal behind him. Bullock and Star soon make friends with “Wild” Bill Hickok and his associated Charlie Utter and Calamity Jane. Swearengen is set up as the villain, Ian McShane does a brilliant job playing Swearengen.
Soon you realize this isn’t as simple as good guys vs. bad guys. Swearengen is a complex character and Bullock has his issues also. The other characters in the camp are thoroughly fleshed out also. It is truly an ensemble piece that tells great stories. By the time “Wild” Bill was killed, I was hooked! Deadwood only ran three seasons but it is great TV and worthy of any top 10 list. It’s unfortunate the HBO shelved the series and even more unfortunate that the rumored movie never was made. It lives on in DVD form and is even better when you re-watch since you pick up so many small things that slipped by on the first viewing.