Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Here in Sofia I have come down with a mild case of strep throat so I have been staying in most nights. HBO here in Sofia has been showing the first season of "Deadwood". I just bought the first season on DVD not too long ago, but I have been re-watching the same episodes again.

If you aren't familiar with it, "Deadwood" is set in the 1870s in the camp of Deadwood, before it became part of the United States, in modern-day South Dakota. So, from that standpoint it is a Western but it is probably a Western unlike any you've seen before. "Deadwood" depicts frontier life in all its gritty detail.

One thing that distinguishes "Deadwood" from most other shows is the quality of the writing. While I am hardly an expert on this period in our history, the characters' dialogue has a ring of truth about it. For the most part these are hardy, uneducated people and their speech reflects this. The speech patterns are a curious mixture of formal, almost Victorian-sounding speech, and the most hair-curling profanity. In the interest of keeping this blog PG, I won't go into detail. Just remember this, if and when you decide to watch it. The language is very graphic. However, I am sure that it's not done gratuitously. I think this is just the way people in that part of the country at that time talked.

However, the real reason to watch "Deadwood" is the acting - and specifically that of English actor Ian McShane. McShane is not the protagonist of "Deadwood". To the extent that "Deadwood" has a protagonist, that role is ably filled by Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant plays Seth Bullock, a former lawman who comes to Deadwood to make his fortune.

Now, I like Olyphant as Bullock, but it's McShane as Al Swearengen that really makes "Deadwood" worth watching. At first, Swearengen, the proprietor of "The Gem", Deadwood's first saloon and brothel, seems like the antagonist - i.e., the bad guy. But as you get deeper into the show you start to realize that Swearengen is much more complex than that. Self-interested and greedy to be sure, but you also realize something surprising about Al - he's honest.

For McShane, who heretofore was not particularly well-known to American audiences, this has to be the role of a lifetime. Like Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall in "As Good As It Gets", Al says what's on his mind and he doesn't care who may be offended. And the things he says will have you staring gape-jawed at your TV from time to time and, more often than not, chuckling if not laughing outright.

McShane was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He lost to "Boston Legal's" James Spader. Now, I am also a big Spader fan and his Alan Shore is a great character, but he really can't hold a candle to McShane's Al Swearengen. Lord only knows why awards show voters vote the way they do. If I knew that, then I'd know why "Titanic" won Best Picture in 1997.

The second season just finished and my roommate Pete and I are eagerly awaiting its release on DVD. The third season is in production now and it looks like other, high-caliber actors are jumping on board. I just read on IMDB that Brian Cox has joined the cast for the third season.

Do yourself a favor - watch "Deadwood".

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