By Dan Jardine
Deadwood, beyond being the most complex, well-written, designed and acted show on television, presents a portrayal of the business of America (which, as Coolidge once so accurately noted, is business) as vicious and unforgiving as it is astute. But for all its nastiness and cruelty, Deadwood is also among the funniest shows on the tube. Whether it's Johnny's recurrent bumbling, E.B.'s bon mots ("the camp pugilist"), or Al's bang-on impersonation of E.B., each Deadwood episode presents several opportunities to guffaw and chortle, allowing the audience to catch its breath, gird its loins and prepare for battle. And yet, have you ever wondered how the show would translate if it were filmed before a live studio audience? Suddenly, disturbingly, what was delicious and subversive becomes, well, this. Thank your lucky stars, I say.
On the only slightly more serious side, over on the HBO Deadwood boards, one of the most interesting participants has been cast member W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority), whose latest posts you can see under the moniker BigEarlB, all lined in a pretty row here. Fans know that he's been a creative force in developing storylines and writing for the show; in his latest series of posts Brown discusses, among many other things, the meat and potatoes of the big brawl with Hearst's leviathanic capo. He proves to be not only whip-smart, but disarmingly forthright as well, admitting that his first question about his nekkid scene, post-battle royale, had to do with the perceived size of his Johnson. Trust me, this actor also has a lotta other serious material in his repertoire as well (check out his latest on the dangers inherent in any form of religious fundamentalism); a few minutes in Brown's company is time well spent.
Others have written about Deadwood as a show about the innate urge to form social bonds, bringing with it the inevitable domestication of humanity. And yet there is something more biting and edgy about this entry by Uberdionysis, in which the anarchist-leaning author, drawing analogies to pre-Franco Spain, bemoans the loss of possibility that was Deadwood. The naturalism running through this analysis seems a little early 20th century, but it's worth a gander nonetheless.
And now for something completely different: Deadwood's knack for painting multi-layered portraits of evil is an aspect that elevates it above all but a handful of current series. The sophisticated development of Al Swearengen, the brooding deviance of Cy Tolliver, the bloody terror of Francis Wolcott, the clinical sociopathy of George Hearst, even the socially responsible psychopathology of Seth Bullock, all are keen examples that the makers of Deadwood understand the importance of nuance. Lonnie Harris's article at Flak Magazine does a good job of putting this element of the show into an artistic, cultural and historical context.
Lastly, yer humble narrator has himself weighed in on Deadwood. Ben Livant and I have had a pair of dialogues about the first two seasons, and if you are so inclined you can study them at your leisure here and here.