×

Deadwood

HBO just might have found its next great dramatic addiction -- a vulgar, gritty, at times downright nasty take on the Old West brimming with all the dark genius that series creator and writer extraordinaire David Milch has at his fingertips. "Deadwood" is the kind of dense, serialized and profane piece that would struggle to survive the sifting-process anywhere else.

With:
Seth Bullock - Timothy Olyphant Al Swearengen - Ian McShane Alma Garret - Molly Parker Wild Bill Hickok - Keith Carradine Sol Star - John Hawkes Doc Cochran - Brad Dourif E.B. Farnum - William Sanderson Trixie - Paula Malcomson Cy Tolliver - Powers Boothe Calamity Jane - Robin Weigert Tom Nuttall - Leon Rippy Dan Dority - W. Earl Brown

HBO just might have found its next great dramatic addiction — a vulgar, gritty, at times downright nasty take on the Old West brimming with all the dark genius that series creator and writer extraordinaire David Milch has at his fingertips. Certainly not for everyone, “Deadwood” is nevertheless a captivating addition to the pay channel — the kind of dense, serialized and profane piece that would struggle to survive the sifting-process anywhere else and that should enthrall a passable portion of “The Sopranos” mob.

Set in the lawless Dakota Territory during the 1870s, Deadwood feels like a living, breathing town, down to the stink, filth and corruption permeating it.

Much has been made already of the extremely blue language — which goes beyond George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” routine to come up with a few even ol’ George didn’t think of — but that only scratches the surface of what Milch has concocted.

Mixing real-life characters with fictionalized elements, “Deadwood” creates a vivid assortment of personalities who pan for gold, stay drunk most of the time and occasionally kill somebody. At one point, a prospector happily notes he’s “made my quota for whiskey, pussy and food,” which basically describes the level to which most of the denizens aspire.

At its heart is Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), a former marshal who, with his partner, is seeking fortune as a salesman in the lawless territory. After the horrific slaying of a pioneer family, Bullock befriends Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine), the legendary gunslinger who is clearly one of the earliest victims of celebrity. A drunkard and compulsive gambler, Hickok is such an attraction that local saloons will pay to have him play cards there, not that he’s terribly enthusiastic about the notion.

The town’s evil center, meanwhile, is Al Swearengen (British veteran Ian McShane), who runs prostitutes, gambling and pretty much any other nefarious activity that will earn him a buck. Bullock instantly dislikes him, and there’s palpable tension and electricity surrounding every scene they share.

Olyphant, who possesses a steely quality as Bullock, provides the closest thing to a moral core the show has to offer. Robin Weigert (recently seen in HBO’s “Angels in America”) also registers strongly as the incredibly foul-mouthed Calamity Jane, a lovely actress virtually unrecognizable under the dirt and grime. Then again, the casting is exceptional from top to bottom, with Brad Dourif, Jeffrey Jones and Molly Parker among them.

Getting Walter Hill to direct the premiere was another inspired stroke, inasmuch as his tough-guy resume includes a 1995 film about Hickok, “Wild Bill.” As deftly played here by Carradine, he’s a weary, tragic figure, a captive of his reputation who inherently recognizes his fate has long since been sealed. “Can’t you let me go to Hell the way I want to?” he asks the doting Jane with a sense of resignation.

This horse opera’s maestro, though, is ultimately Milch, the “NYPD Blue” co-creator who instinctively revels in the high and low: Where else would a character spit out such disarming dialogue, in extending Bullock a proposition, that “I pray, as a Christian man, you will entertain on its own fucking merits.”

Introducing layers as it goes along, “Deadwood” gains complexity through the first handful of episodes. That said, Milch’s quest for historical accuracy ensures this skein isn’t for the faint of heart, including the creative expletives and generally dismal treatment of women, most of whom are whores at best.

The HBO model amounts to a quilt — designed to attract and retain subscribers by appealing to diverse interests — and the pay service is about to lose some oversized patches, with “Sex and the City” done and “The Sopranos” in its penultimate year.

Considering “Deadwood” from that perspective, my guess is there are a few million folks who won’t be inclined to cancel while it’s on, which, in the business stream that HBO navigates, represents the shiniest nugget of all.

Popular on Variety

Deadwood

HBO, Sun. March 21, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Santa Clarita, Calif., by HBO Original Programming in association with Red Board Prods. and Paramount Network Television. Executive producer, David Milch; co-executive producer, Gregg Fienberg; producers, Davis Guggenheim, Scott Stephens; consulting producer, Jody Worth; director, Walter Hill; writer, Milch.

Crew: Camera, Lloyd Ahern; editor, Freeman Davies, Stephan Mark; production designer, Maria Caso; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. 60 MIN.

Cast: Seth Bullock - Timothy Olyphant Al Swearengen - Ian McShane Alma Garret - Molly Parker Wild Bill Hickok - Keith Carradine Sol Star - John Hawkes Doc Cochran - Brad Dourif E.B. Farnum - William Sanderson Trixie - Paula Malcomson Cy Tolliver - Powers Boothe Calamity Jane - Robin Weigert Tom Nuttall - Leon Rippy Dan Dority - W. Earl Brown

More TV

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar

    'Other People's Houses' Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Works at Fox

    Sarah Michelle Gellar is looking to reunite with “Ringer” creators Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder on a dramedy co-produced by Fox Entertainment and UTV. Fox is developing “Other People’s Houses,” Variety has learned, and has given the project a script commitment. Charmelo and Snyder will write and executive produce, while Neil Meron, Sarah Michelle Gellar [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler'Woke Up This Morning: The

    ‘Sopranos’ Cast Members to Present at VMAs in New Jersey

    The VMAs will reunite “Sopranos” castmates for the big awards show happening Monday night in Newark, New Jersey — right next door to America’s favorite crime family.  Drea De Matteo (who played the mobster girlfriend-turned F.B.I. informant Adriana La Cerva), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (who played Tony Soprano’s precocious daughter Meadow Soprano) and Vincent Pastore (who played [...]

  • The L Word

    'The L Word: Generation Q' Teaser Unites Original Cast, New Characters

    Showtime has released the first look at the next generation of “The L Word” and its new cast including Rosanny Zayas, Jacqueline Toboni, Sepideh Moafi, Arienne Mandi, and Micah Lee. Along with some of the original cast, including Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig, the series sequel picks up where its creator Ilene Chaiken [...]

  • ACCESS HOLLYWOOD -- Season: 24 --

    'Access Hollywood' Franchise Adds New Half-Hour Show

    After a spate of recent layoffs and the departure of host Natalie Morales, “Access Hollywood” is extending its brand with a new half-hour series. “All Access,” premiering Sept. 9, will take an in-depth look into the national headlines and look to uncover the real-life drama occurring in everyday places, exploring a blend of true crime [...]

  • YouTube TV Adds Subscription Options for

    YouTube TV Adds Subscription Options for AMC Networks' Acorn TV, UMC

    Google’s YouTube TV now offers two more add-on channels to subscribers, under an expanded pact with AMC Networks: British TV service Acorn TV and UMC (Urban Movie Channel), which features a selection of black TV and film titles. Acorn TV’s add-on channel is now available via YouTube TV for $6 per month and UMC is [...]

  • Haunting of Hill House

    'Haunting of Hill House' Writers Making Horror Series 'Red Rose' for BBC

    The BBC is teaming with Michael and Paul Clarkson, the twin brother writers behind the second season of Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” for a new horror thriller, the U.K. pubcaster announced Thursday at the Edinburgh TV Festival. “Red Rose” is being produced for the BBC’s U.K. youth-skewing online platform BBC Three. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content